Trio exit Bath amid drugs claims

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Three leading Bath players – the England flanker Michael Lipman, the centre Alex Crockett and the wing Andrew Higgins – yesterday resigned from the club with immediate effect, shortly before an internal disciplinary hearing into alleged drug-taking and fighting at an end-of-season party in London. Lipman and Crockett had both captained the side during the Premiership campaign just completed. Higgins was another regular figure in the senior team.

Bob Calleja, chief executive at the Recreation Ground, issued a short statement last night confirming the departures of the trio. He said they had been called to "address failure on three occasions to take a drugs test following allegations surrounding player conduct on 10 May". Other senior players, bitterly frustrated at having their own good names dragged through the mire, had privately called for swift and ruthless action against anyone found to have transgressed. However, the news that three such high-profile individuals are on their way out of the Rec so soon after the abrupt resignation of the former Wallaby lock Justin Harrison, now thought to be back home in Australia, will rock the club to its core.

Only four months ago, another of Bath's front-line players, the England and Lions tight-head prop Matt Stevens, received a two-year ban from all rugby after confessing to a cocaine habit. That episode led to many elder statesmen calling for a cleaning of the stables. When the latest allegations of serious misbehaviour surfaced in mid-May, the hierarchy, led by the chairman and financier-in-chief Andrew Brownsword, ordered an immediate and far-reaching inquiry.

Lipman, who toured New Zealand with England last summer and played against the All Blacks in last autumn's Test at Twickenham, was central to Bath's fast-developing style of all-action, offloading rugby. Crockett, a local product, was seen as a heart-and-soul contributor.

The Rugby Football Union will review all paperwork linked to the inquiry and, within seven days, will decide whether it should take action against any player under rule 5.12, which covers actions "prejudicial to the interests of the game".