English Rugby
Harlequins escape further punishment
August 25, 2009

The Rugby Football Union have opted not to punish Harlequins for the four additional fake blood incidents uncovered by the investigation into 'bloodgate'.

The game is still reeling from the fall-out of last season's Heineken Cup quarter-final between the Premiership side and Leinster and the use of a fake blood capsule that eventually saw former Quins rugby director Dean Richards, player Tom Williams and ex-physio Steph Brennan all banned.

Richards was hit with a three-year suspension after being found guilty of masterminding the incident while Williams was banned for four months on appeal. Brennan was hit with a two year ban and the club itself was also found guilty of misconduct and fined £260,000.

The original European Rugby Cup investigation unearthed four other instances of the use of fake blood and their findings were passed to the RFU earlier this month. However, English rugby's governing body have opted not to punish the club, or the players involved, any further.

The RFU Disciplinary Officer, Judge Jeff Blackett, delivered the union's verdict and expressed his concern at the level of misconduct.

"It is apparent from evidence provided to the Harlequins internal review by players who described practices in other teams in which they have played, that Harlequins is not the only club which may have been guilty of inappropriate behaviour of a similar kind," wrote Blackett.

RFU chief executive Francis Baron has also confirmed the setting up of a "game-wide taskforce" to review recent damaging issues in English rugby.

"As the governing body for rugby in England, some of the evidence disclosed to ERC and Judge Blackett, alongside other high profile issues in the professional game, meant the RFU had to act. We will be setting up a game-wide Taskforce to review all issues associated with recent events.

"The review will be wide-ranging, thorough and the recommendations in the best interests of the whole game and further details on members of the Taskforce and its terms of reference will be announced very shortly. "

In a detailed statement, Blackett continued, "During the ERC disciplinary proceedings against Harlequins in relation to their match against Leinster on 12 April 2009, and subsequently, it was reported that fake blood had been used on four other occasions.

"I have discussed this issue with the chairman of the appeals panel and officials from Harlequins and have been provided with certain documentation and am now apprised of sufficient facts to enable me to decide what to do about these further allegations.

"As a result of the ERC proceedings, Harlequins conducted a wide-ranging internal review to establish whether the incident involving the use of fake blood which was the subject of those proceedings was isolated. In order to obtain reliable evidence, the review promised anonymity to anyone who provided relevant information and immunity from club disciplinary proceedings.

"During that review, Steph Brennan, the then club physiotherapist, provided the review with a document describing five occasions when fake blood was used (including the matter being considered by the appeals panel). The document did not contain names, dates or matches. During Mr Brennan's evidence to the ERC appeals panel, he referred to this document and, when pressed by the panel, he mentioned the names of the other four players who, he said, were involved.

"He told the panel that on each occasion he had administered the fake blood on the instruction of the director of rugby, Dean Richards."

"In relation to the four players identified at the ERC appeal hearing, I have decided not to take any further action.

"First, on each occasion the decision to use fake blood was made by the team management and not the players themselves. Mr Richards and Mr Brennan have already been punished significantly, and the length of their sanction reflects the fact that the matter before the ERC appeal panel was not isolated. Any further sanction against those two individuals for the other four occasions would be concurrent to the sanctions they have already received.

"Second, the players named by Mr Brennan have not had the opportunity to respond to any allegations against them. Before taking any disciplinary action, a further investigation would be required and it would rely on the co-operation of Mr Brennan and Mr Richards. This would take some time and continue to attract comment and speculation which might further damage reputations.

"Third, the evidence which identifies those four players was obtained initially by Harlequins by a review which promised anonymity and immunity from disciplinary proceedings. If I now initiate disciplinary proceedings, the players involved would have a strong argument that those proceedings were an abuse of process.

"Fourth, disciplinary action against these four players could deter other players who will be asked to assist the RFU review.

"Finally, the behaviours that led to these occasions will be considered as part of the wider RFU review.

"For these reasons, I do not believe it to be in the best interests of the Game or the Union either to publish the names of the players or to initiate disciplinary proceedings in relation to those occasions of alleged misconduct."

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