Boy died after school rugby match collapse in Northern Ireland


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The Independent Online

A schoolboy rugby player died on the final whistle just minutes after he was seen holding his head following an earlier challenge, an inquest in Northern Ireland has heard.

Ben Robinson, 14, was not taken off and continued to play in the Co Antrim schools fixture. He collapsed following a tackle and never regained consciousness.

One fellow player said: "He is clean out there."

Ben was playing for Carrickfergus Grammar School against Dalriada High School in Carrickfergus in January last year when he collapsed.

He was treated by a medic at the scene, Dr Paul Loan, and taken to the Royal Victoria Hospital in Belfast, where he was pronounced dead.

His father, Peter, told the Belfast inquest of his concerns as footage of the match showed his son holding his head, then getting back to his feet following a series of bruising tackles.

"He was hunched, he was not his normal body position, you could see that," he said.

The inquest saw him talking to a team-mate in the middle of the pitch at one stage.

Family lawyer Gabriel Ingram said the other boy was looking "quizzically" at the victim.

He added: "He appears to have his head off to the right and forward slightly."

Ben was playing for his school in the Medallion Shield at home in Carrickfergus.

His parents, Mr Robinson and Karen Walton, and their partners, were in court for the inquest.

Police investigating the schoolboy's death drew a blank, Mr Ingram told the inquest.

It was only when lawyers for Ben's family became involved that some important evidence emerged, an officer in the case conceded.

Constable David Mannis took several witness statements but his initial appeal to the principals of both schools for pupils at the match to come forward was unsuccessful.

Mr Ingram said: "The family's dissatisfaction with the investigation by Constable Mannis - that effectively it was in bits and pieces throughout and that he took a number of statements and considered things to be closed but then there were further material witnesses put forward by the family and Constable Mannis thereafter took their statements and they have added in their opinion significantly to the truth of what happened on that football pitch."

The officer was told by principal Tom Skelton that pupils at Dalriada were too traumatised by their experience to give evidence.

Mr Ingram told the policeman: "You have lost a huge potential chunk of witness evidence by not pursuing it."

Mr Ingram queried whether the police officer thought that was enough evidence to verify what he thought had happened without pursuing it further.

He said witnesses gave important evidence about the victim's injuries and demeanour as well as suggesting that he should be taken off - but this was not followed up by police.

Following Mr Ingram's intercession, 300 letters were sent to parents at Ballymena Grammar, eliciting five or six new witness statements.

Mr Ingram said: "Before my input the net effect of your investigations into this case in terms of trying to get witness statements from the pupils is that you had drawn an absolute blank as regards Dalriada and Carrickfergus Grammar School. You had drawn a blank in terms of leaving it in the hands of the headmasters."

The policeman was also forced to liaise with the family through the coroner's service and the family solicitor, Mr Ingram.

He admitted there were "difficulties" in his relationship with Ben's police officer mother. He has known her for some time, having driven her to work when they were training together, but never alerted his superiors to the issues. Mr Ingram asked if he was out of his depth, which he denied.

"I was not going to walk away and throw the towel in," he said.

Mr Ingram said he should have explored inconsistencies between a witness statement from Dr Loan and his apparent appearance on the pitch in a video recording of the match.

Mr Skelton, principal of Dalriada School in Ballymoney, said he had followed the officer's instructions.

"I did what I thought was right, subject to school policy," he said.

"I was asked to ascertain if any of the pupils were prepared to give evidence and I carried out that request."

He added: "They felt they had nothing that would be of any benefit regarding the inquiry - their own focus was on the game of rugby."

The inquest continues tomorrow.