Rugby union: Storey takes civil action over alleged attack

Click to follow
The Independent Online
THE WELSH Rugby Union's less than impeccable sense of timing was in evidence once again last night when their new initiative in the fight against gratuitous violence was overshadowed by the decision of James Storey, the Neath threequarter and son of the BBC athletics commentator, Stuart Storey, to launch a civil action following an alleged punching incident in the Welsh-Scottish League match with Bridgend at the Brewery Field on 24 October. Storey's representatives yesterday accused John Funnell, the Bridgend centre, of fracturing their client's cheekbone and further claimed that the victim may be "scarred for life".

The developments were acutely embarrassing for the WRU, who were meeting yesterday evening to discuss the introduction of World Cup-style citing commissioners for Welsh-Scottish League games. Storey's solicitor, Michael Imperato, said he welcomed the fact that the meeting was taking place, but criticised the union for failing to act on "clear" video evidence. "The referee dealt with the incident at the time by awarding Neath a penalty, which meant the offending player could not be cited," he said. "However, the video clearly shows that this was a violent attack against James.

"The WRU was asked to review the tape and take the necessary disciplinary proceedings to ensure that violence of this sort is not tolerated in the future. To date, no reply has been forthcoming. Bridgend also said they would examine the evidence. Again, nothing has been heard. Clearly, this does nothing for the reputation of the game. James and his family feel outraged by what seems to be a lack of concern over this serious incident. Consequently, he has been left with little alternative but to commence legal action."

Bridgend, who were sent a detailed letter of claim yesterday, made no comment on the allegations, but were said to have already disciplined Funnell, capped twice by Wales in 1998, by imposing both a fine and a suspension. Storey's representatives were unaware of any such steps, however, and insisted that they expected a "substantive reply" from Bridgend within three months. "If they are willing to negotiate and settle out of court, this could be resolved reasonably quickly," said Mr Imperato, a partner with the Russell Jones and Walker practice. "If not, it will have to go all the way to court.

"The issue is complicated by the fact that these are relatively early days in respect of James' injury. It is a scarring injury, and we are told that it will take between six and nine months for the full effects to become clear. Even if we received an offer of settlement tomorrow, we might not be able to agree to it." Mr Imperato said criminal proceedings against either the accused player or his club were "not envisaged", but added: "We urge the WRU to introduce citing commissioners with the greatest urgency and to use James' case to set a precedent and ensure that violence of this sort does not go unpunished in future games."

Storey, a recent addition to the Wales A set-up and a part-time model who, presumably, would have much preferred to have kept his looks intact, may suffer from a deformed cheek for the rest of his life. "The surgeon said he had never seen such a serious injury sustained after a punch," said the 23-year-old back yesterday. "It seems ridiculous that, because of the rules covering our domestic game, this player may escape without punishment, while I am left unable to play the sport I love for 10 weeks and risk being scarred for life."

Not for the first time, the WRU find themselves between a rock and a hard place. Much of the recent concern over foul play, both during the World Cup and in the opening rounds of European matches, has smacked of over-reaction; the sport is far cleaner today than at any time in the post-war era. In addition, the citing system used in the World Cup was riddled with inconsistencies and, by the end of the tournament, had become the butt of a million jokes. But the Storey case only increases the pressure on the union to act, even if their proposed action has already been discredited.