BOXING'S reputation is under fierce assault once more: Scottish bantamweight James Murray was last night declared "clinically dead" after a title fight that ended in a riot.

The twin spectres haunting the sport - grave injury and crowd misbehaviour - came together in Glasgow late on Friday night, after Murray was knocked out in the 12th and final round of his title challenge to fellow Scot Drew Docherty.

While Murray was unconscious and being treated inside the ring, hooligans were throwing bottles and chairs at commentators and spectators, who dived under tables or fled in terror.

The crowd violence, in the ballroom of Glasgow's Hospitality Inn hotel, where the match followed a dinner, is thought to have hampered Murray's exit to the hospital, although both police and hospital authorities have denied that the rioting had worsened his condition. "As far as we are concerned, we received Mr Murray expeditely," said a spokesman for Glasgow's Southern General Hospital.

Surgeons carried out a two-hour emergency operation to remove a blood clot from the brain of Murray, 25. Doctors last night told his family that he was "clinically dead", according to Murray's manager, Alex Morrison. "All I know is that there is virtually no hope," he said.

The British Boxing Board of Control (BBBC) launched an inquiry into the crowd violence yesterday. The BBBC's secretary, John Morris, who was at the ringside, said: "The behaviour of the crowd in one section of the hall was disgusting. If these are boxing supporters, we don't want them.

"We have no idea what sparked the trouble, but what happened was a disgrace. Our doctors and the paramedics did a wonderful job to remove Murray to hospital so quickly.

"Everyone who was there from the Board last night has been asked to supply a written statement of what they saw."

Many of the 600 crowd were drinking before the fight ended at around 10.40pm. One witness said that he thought the trouble was caused by a section of the crowd who had paid pounds 20 to stand at the back of the mainly black-tie dinner audience. Sectarian rivalry between the Glasgow fans of Docherty, from a Catholic family, and Protestant Murray from Newmains, Lan-arkshire, may also be a factor.

Sky Sports commentator Ian Dark said: "Chairs were being flung around. It spread to the entire hall. I think people had had far too much to drink and the security seemed flimsy. I actually ended up commentating from under the desk."

The injury and riot are a double blow to the BBBC, which has been trying to salvage thereputation of the sport and its fans. The British Medical Association (BMA) has been trying since 1982 to outlaw boxing. Yesterday a BMA spokeswoman asked: "How many more brain-damaged boxers do there have to be before boxing is banned?"

Yesterday one of boxing's leading figures seemed close to agreeing. The promoter Frank Warren said it was "very difficult to justify" the sport in the light of Murray's injuries. "I could not look Jim's father and mother in the eye and say the sport should go on, but it is a very emotive subject at times like this, so we should all give it a few days," he said.

More than 500 boxers have died since the Queensberry Rules were introduced in 1884.

Former world featherweightchampion Barry McGuigan called for anaesthetists as well as doctors to be at the ringside during fights, an idea the BBBC are already taking on board.

The most recent high-profile incidents of brain damage were to Gerald McLellan in his fight with Nigel Benn this year and to Michael Watson against Chris Eubank in 1991. In 1994 Londoner Bradley Stone, 23, died three days after falling into a coma following a British super- bantamweight title fight.

l Even amateur boxers suffer brain damage, according to research by a team at the Royal Naval Hospital at Gosport, writes Roger Dobson. Non-boxing sportsmen consistently performed better in neurological tests than amateur boxers.

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