Quins in the clear with RFU
September 11, 2009
Harlequins have been cleared of further investigation © Getty Images
Harlequins will face no further charges over 'Bloodgate' after the Rugby Football Union (RFU) declared their investigation into the scandal 'closed'.
RFU Disciplinary Officer Jeff Blackett confirmed that there was insufficient evidence and 'no merit' in further investigation following sanctions handed down by European Rugby Cup Ltd. (ERC).
Blackett had been debating whether or not further review of the case would implicate club executives, including chief executive Mark Evans and former chairman Charles Jillings, in actions prejudicial to the interests of the game.
Quins director of rugby Dean Richards was banned for three years after wing Tom Williams faked a blood injury in the Heineken Cup quarter-final against Leinster in April. Williams was banned for four months, reduced from 12 on appeal, and the club fined £259,000. Physiotherapist Steph Brennan was also banned for two years but the club have been cleared to compete in this season's Heineken Cup.
ERC announced on Tuesday that they would be making no further probes, leaving the door open for the RFU to open any proceedings that they deemed necessary.
"I have decided that there would be no merit in further investigation and there is insufficient evidence to support a case of misconduct by the club or any of its senior officials which has not already been considered by ERC," said Blackett.
"There will, therefore, be no further misconduct proceedings against Harlequins or any of its senior officials in relation to the use of fake blood, or any related activities up to the final ERC appeal hearing. As far as the RFU is concerned the matter is now closed.
"There will be some in the game who will consider that further action should be taken against Harlequins and senior officials and that my decision has undermined the integrity of the sport. I disagree.
"This whole saga has lasted for far too long already and a line needs to be drawn so that reputations and the image of the game may be restored. I have no doubt that everyone involved now understands the importance of telling the truth at the earliest possible opportunity and that in itself will send a powerful message to the rest of the game."
The incident occurred in Harlequins' Heineken Cup quarter-final against Leinster at the Twickenham Stoop on April 12, one day short of five months ago. Williams was given a blood capsule and ordered to feign injury so that Quins, who were trailing 6-5 with five minutes remaining, could send previously substituted fly-half Nick Evans back onto the field.
Evans missed with his drop-goal attempt and Leinster went on to win the Heineken Cup - but the repercussions have been widespread with the General Medical Council also looking into allegations made against Dr Wendy Chapman.
Blackett's investigation centred on areas not covered by the ERC, surrounding the conduct of Harlequins' senior executives in the days after the original hearing. Blackett found no evidence that anyone senior at the club, other than those already sanctioned, knew about the cheating against Leinster on April 12 or the subsequent cover-up.
The fact Evans did not report the facts to ERC as soon as he learned of the cover-up could technically be classed as misconduct but Blackett ruled any further action would be "oppressive". Blackett also accepted Harlequins' offer of a financial deal had not been an attempt to buy his silence but a no-strings compensation package for the damage caused to the player because of the club's own failings.
Early in the process, Harlequins had been anxious that Williams only appeal on a "limited basis", fearing a full disclosure would result in the club being thrown out of Europe and also for the potential professional impact on Brennan and Chapman.
At around the same time Williams was also offered a financial package which contained, among other things, a new four-year contract. Williams was under the belief the package was dependent on him lodging only a limited appeal and he went back to Harlequins with a counter-offer. But Stephen Hornsby, the Harlequins solicitor, sent an email which stated the club "cannot make payments to [Williams] that are conditional on him not exercising his legal rights. The exorbitant level of payments you outlined in your email would be equivalent to buying his silence and this is something the board cannot countenance."
Williams was also under investigation for his counter-offer to Harlequins, which included a demand for £390,000 to pay off his mortgage, in exchange for not appealing. Blackett decided further action against Williams would also be oppressive and he accepted the offer was made when the player was "not acting entirely rationally" and that he now regrets it.
"As far as the RFU is concerned the matter is now closed," he said. "The reputation of the club has also been tarnished. That seems to me to be a proportionate sanction for all that has occurred."
Williams will be free to play again on November 20 and he said tonight, "I am relieved that this ordeal is over, and I can now concentrate all my efforts on making a successful return to playing later this year."
The Professional Rugby Players' Association (PRA) welcomed Blackett's decision after working closely with Williams following the original decision.
"Throughout this lengthy process the PRA has never deviated from advising Tom Williams to tell the truth, despite the enormous emotional stress he was under," said PRA CEO Damian Hopley. "Despite this pressure Tom has shown tremendous courage and determination in attempting to undo the serious error of judgement he made, albeit under instruction from his employer."