`Strict' referee describes tragic scrum in pounds 1m case kept to rules

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The Independent Online
The rugby referee at the centre of a pounds 1 million High Court damages action today denied he had lost control of a match in which a young player was paralysed for life.

Michael Nolan told Mr Justice Curtis he would have given up refereeing if he felt he had contributed to 21-year-old Ben Smoldon's accident in an October 1991 under-19 Colts game between Sutton Coldfield and Burton- on-Trent.

He denied seeing any deliberate unlawful behaviour in the collapsed scrum which caused the young hooker's tetraplegia.

Mr Smoldon, of Station Road, Sutton Coldfield, West Midlands, is suing Mr Nolan together with Burton player Thomas Whitworth who, he claims, collapsed the scrum by moving back out of position. Both deny liability.

Mr Nolan, 54, an Army cadet force administrator of Lichfield Road, Tamworth, Staffordshire, who is backed by the Rugby Football Union, said he had refereed since 1982 and was promoted to a higher grade shortly after the accident.

"I'm quite strict on the laws of the game," he said. "If people do transgress, I have no hesitation in sending them off."

The game started like any other "at 100 mph with everyone going hell for leather", but was not particularly dirty, he said, adding that he regarded a collapsed scrum as the most dangerous feature of rugby and assessed the number in the match as up to eight - not 25 as alleged. He could not say what caused them.

In the final tragic scrum, the two front rows came together and immediately collapsed into the middle with nearly all the players going down.

"I blew my whistle right away. Ben cried out and I called for people on the side line to come across quickly," said Mr Nolan.

The hearing was adjourned until tomorrow.