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'A tiny misjudgment, a tragic accident': Coroner closes book on Phillip Hughes' death

Cricket

UPDATED: A coroner has found that a “minuscule misjudgment” by Phillip Hughes from a high-bouncing ball led to his death during an SCG Sheffield Shield match in November 2014.

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The much anticipated findings on the death of the Redbacks batsman were handed down this morning following an emotionally charged inquest last month into his death.

“A minuscule misjudgment or a slight error of execution caused him to miss the ball which crashed into his neck with fatal consequences… There was no suggestion the ball was bowled with malicious intent. Neither the bowler nor anyone else was to blame for the tragic outcome,” State Coroner Michael Barnes determined.

The Hughes family was not in the courtroom as Barnes handed down his findings.

“Phillip wasn’t wearing the most up-to-date safety helmet when he was struck and the rules that then applied didn’t require him to do so. However, had he even been wearing that most modern equipment then available, it would not have protected the area of his body where the fatal blow landed,” he said.

Barnes said that the alleged sledging between bowlers and batsmen during the November 2014 game didn’t affect Hughes’s composure.

“So the threats could not be implicated in his death,” he said.

“On that basis, no finding is made as to whether the sledging allegedly actually occurred.

“Hopefully, the focus on this unsavoury aspect of the incident may cause those who claim to love the game to reflect upon whether the practice of sledging is worthy of its participants.”

The October inquiry deepened a rift between the former Test batsman’s family and those summoned to the witness box, with claims of threatening sledges and a cover-up.

Barnes recommended that Cricket NSW review its policy governing the daily medical briefing to ensure key staff are aware of its purpose.

“Although it was immediately obvious that Phillip was seriously injured, it wasn’t clear whose responsibility it was to call an ambulance. An ambulance was not called for over six minutes after he was hit.”

Significant improvements have been made since the Hughes incident, he said.

Barnes also spoke of further developing protective equipment worn by batsmen. He recommended Cricket Australia identify a neck protector to be worn in all first class matches.

“Since the incident which led to Phillip’s death, attempts have been made to design and manufacture a neck guard that will provide some protection for batsmen hit below the coverage of the helmet on the back and side of the head or neck.”

He said it is challenging because any such device needs to be flexible so as not to restrict movement, light so as not to increase fatigue or lead to overheating.

Barnes said he hoped the findings would comfort the Hughes family after an often tense inquest.

Members of Hughes’ family scoffed and walked out of the court on the final day of the inquest last month when Bruce Hodgkinson SC, who is part of the legal team representing cricket boards and players, said the “bonds of mateship were on display” from the moment Hughes was injured.

“The family’s grief at losing their much loved son and brother was exacerbated by their belief that unfair play had contributed to his death,” Barnes said.

He said he hoped that they accept the compelling evidence that the rules were complied with.

“Phillip was excelling at the crease as he so often did and … his death was a tragic accident.

“Nothing can undo the source of their never-ending sorrow but hopefully in the future, the knowledge that Phillip was loved and admired by so many and that his death has led to changes to make cricket safer will be of some comfort.”

Greg Hughes, the father of cricketer Phillip Hughes, leave the Downing Centre Court in Sydney, Friday, Oct. 14, 2016. The family of Phillip Hughes has left a coroner's court during the closing submissions for a five-day inquest into his death in November 2014, after he was struck on the side of the head by a short-pitched delivery from friend and pace bowler Sean Abbott during a Sheffield Shield match. (AAP Image/Joel Carrett) NO ARCHIVING

Phillip’s father Greg Hughes leaving an earlier sitting of the coroner’s court. Photo: Joel Carrett / AAP

Cricket Australia said it would implement the inquest’s recommendations “as soon as practical” but would not force players to wear neck guards until scientific evidence suggests it is beneficial.

CA boss James Sutherland noted his organisation has “a responsibility and a duty to make sure something like this doesn’t happen again”.

“We’ll be looking to implement the recommendations as soon as practical,” Sutherland said in Perth before play began on the second day of Australia’s first Test against South Africa.

“We’re open to any suggestion of further improvement.”

Hughes’ shock death prompted helmet manufacturer Masuri to introduce the StemGuard, a clip-on attachment made of plastic and foam that provides extra protection.

Many players, headlined by Australia vice-captain David Warner, don’t wear the attachment as they find it too restrictive.

“In terms of the scientific evidence that actually supports they make a difference, it’s not actually there yet,” Sutherland said.

“Once we get to that stage we’ll mandate it … we hope to get to that stage as soon as possible.”

On-field banter is something that has always been part of the game

Barnes didn’t make a formal recommendation regarding sledging but pondered “why such a beautiful game would need such an ugly underside”.

Sutherland suggested sledging “can be in the spirit of the game or it can not be” depending on what is said but didn’t feel it was currently out of control to a point that warranted a crackdown.

“I’ve got a view on the spirit of cricket and I don’t disagree with what the coroner says in regard to the spirit of cricket,” he said.

“On-field banter is something that has always been part of the game but when that banter turns to abuse that crosses the line to something different. That’s not in the spirit of the game.

“If it has become a problem, I’d say the umpires are not doing their job … we don’t see a lot of reports for that sort of behaviour.”

CA’s relationship with the Hughes family became further strained during last month’s inquest. Sutherland said his thoughts were with Hughes’ parents Greg and Virginia, and siblings Jason and Megan.

“They more than anyone have had to live with the sad reality that Phillip is longer with them,” he said.

“None of us can in anyway underestimate the challenges they’ve got in dealing with the reality that Phillip’s no longer with us.”

KEY RECOMMENDATIONS:

* Cricket Australia to review dangerous and unfair bowling laws to weed out any inconsistencies in the interpretation of the rules.

* CA to identify a helmet neck protector that all batsmen must wear in first class matches.

* Cricket NSW to review its policy governing daily medical briefings to ensure key staff are aware of its purpose.

* Umpire training be reviewed so they can ensure medical assistance is summoned quickly and effectively.

-AAP

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