English Rugby
Richards blamed for 'Bloodgate'
September 2, 2009

Former Harlequins director of rugby Dean Richards has been described as having "central control of everything" in the 'Bloodgate' fake-blood injury scandal.

The former England international, who is already serving a three-year ban for masterminding the incident, has been strongly criticised in the full written judgement from his European Rugby Cup appeal hearing.

"In one of the highest-profile matches in which the club had ever been involved, he was prepared to cheat Leinster out of a victory by bringing on a player at a crucial stage in the match when that player was not entitled to return to the field of play," read part of the judgement. "He was quite disinterested in the consideration that, by acting the way that he did, the club which deserved to win the match might be deprived of its victory."

The 99-page document also appears to clear Quins' chief executive Mark Evans of any alleged misconduct with the independent panel seemingly satisfied that the club's board were not aware of the scale of the cover-up until Richards came clean last month.

The judgement also reveals that the club escaped expulsion from this season's Heineken Cup after the panel agreed with Harlequins' claim that such a punishment "would represent a disproportionate burden and penalty."

ERC disciplinary officer Roger O'Connor appealed an original decision to clear Richards and ex-Quins physiotherapist Steph Brennan of alleged misconduct. A subsequent appeal committee then hit Richards with a worldwide ban, imposed a two-year suspension on Brennan and also increased Quins' fine to 300,000 euro.

The fake-blood incident involved wing Tom Williams and played out during Quins' Heineken Cup quarter-final clash against Leinster last season. He was given a fake blood capsule to use in an attempt to get goal kicker Nick Evans, who had earlier left the field injured, back into the game. Quins lost the game 6-5, and Williams received a 12-month suspension following the incident, which was subsequently reduced to four months on appeal.

Details of Williams' written judgement at the appeal were released last week, and further documentation regarding evidence given by Richards and Brennan has now been published.

In their judgement, the appeal committee said, "Mr Richards was the directing mind and had central control over everything that happened in relation to the fabrication of the blood injury on the pitch, and the cover-up in the days after the match. The only aspect of the matter in which the appeal committee determined he did not have direct involvement was the alleged cutting of Mr Williams' lip by Dr (Wendy) Chapman.

"It was Mr Richards who had instigated and directed arrangements which enabled the fabrication of blood injuries as and when that was convenient and would assist the club during matches. In one of the highest profile matches in which the club had ever been involved, he was prepared to try to cheat Leinster out of a victory by bringing on a player at a crucial stage in the match when that player was not entitled to return to the field of play.

"He was quite disinterested in the consideration that by acting the way he did the club which deserved to win the match might be deprived of its victory. He had long since recruited Mr Brennan as his willing lieutenant in such activities, and in identifying Mr Williams as the person who would fake the blood injury he had selected a player who he thought could be suborned into cheating.

"His (Richards) was the dominant personality and influence on affairs. He instigated the cover-up to the extent of requiring Mr Brennan to fabricate statements and then refining the fabrications to ensure that all statements were consistent.

"We considered the primary interest of Mr Richards was in preventing his own role in events being discovered."

The appeal committee judgement continued, "Mr Richards arranged matters so that those who were charged with misconduct complaints would lie to the legal team and would then lie to the disciplinary hearing. Mr Richards was by far and away the most experienced and senior individual involved.

"It was open to him at any stage to have said that 'enough is enough' and that the reputation of rugby and Harlequins had been sufficiently damaged. If he had admitted at any stage prior to the conclusion of the disciplinary hearing the truth of what had happened then the damage to individuals, the club and the game of rugby union would have been very much reduced."

In relation to Brennan's role, the committee said he had played "a crucial role" in fabricating the blood injury to Williams.

"His (Brennan's) involvement in the cover up of events after the match was integral. He was effectively compelled into telling the truth by the actions of Mr Williams in disclosing how the fabricated blood injury had happened and the cover up which followed the match.

"If Mr Williams had not come forward and given the true version of what had happened then Mr Brennan, like Mr Richards, would never have told the truth and admitted his involvement in the fabrication of the blood injury and the subsequent cover up."

In regard to the conduct of Evans and the Harlequins board, the panel commented, "There is no evidence that any of the directors of the club, including Mark Evans, knew of the truth of the events on the field of play or the cover-up until Mr Williams approached them after the disciplinary hearing and Mr Richards confessed to the truth of events on 3 August."

Harlequins, who kick off their new Guinness Premiership campaign this weekend, look increasingly likely to retain their Heineken Cup berth as well with the judgement revealing the panel's refusal to penalise the club for the misconduct of three individuals.

The judgement added, "We agree that the financial implications of the Club being banned from ERC tournaments would be very substantial and in our opinion this would represent a disproportionate burden and penalty on the Club, its staff and players and given the extent of the Club's culpability in relation to the actions of Mr Richards, Mr Brennan and Mr Williams."

Responding to release of the full written judgements, the RFU said it would thoroughly review the documentation.

In a statement, the RFU said, "We have now received all the written decisions from European Rugby Cup Ltd relating to the conduct of Harlequins, its officials and Tom Williams on April 12. We will review that documentation thoroughly.

"However, until a final decision by ERC on any more action they may take in this matter, the jurisdiction lies with them and we are not in a position to take any further steps. The information will also form part of the evidence examined by the Image of the Game Task Group, which will first meet next week to look at all issues to do with inappropriate behaviour that undermine the core values of the game at all levels of the game, on and off the field."

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