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Hughes Inquest breaks as cricket draws breath

The NSW Coroners Court heard closing submissions on another heart-wrenching day for friends and family of Phillip Hughes

The NSW State Coroner will hand down his findings next month after a harrowing week-long inquest into the death of Phillip Hughes was adjourned.

It has been a traumatic week for the family of the late batsman, who died in hospital two days after being struck on the neck by a ball in a Sheffield Shield match at the SCG in November 2014, as well as the players, umpires and staff present who have recounted the day on the witness stand this week.

Cricket Australia executive general manager of Team Performance Pat Howard said the five days of evidence and analysis had "provided a confronting reminder of the sad reality that Phillip Hughes is no longer with us".

"Our thoughts continue to be with the Hughes family during what is a difficult time with them," said Howard. "Our thoughts are also with Phillip's cricket friends and his teammates, all of whom have to deal with the loss of a great mate, as well as the ordeal of being on the ground at the time of the accident.

"We're very proud of the conduct of the players, the officials and staff throughout. Those who have assisted the coroner by providing clear helpful evidence have also suffered by being asked to relive the trauma they went through."

The final day saw closing submissions made by legal counsel for all parties. It proved to be one of the most traumatic, with the Hughes family at one stage storming out of the court.

Legal counsel for the Hughes family had criticised the players from both teams and umpires that had given evidence for a "failure to remember or recall" alleged sledging in the lead-up to the incident.

Greg Melick SC, representing the Hughes family, initially told the court players had "fabricated evidence" during testimony this week in denying there was any sledging or plans to target the batsman with short-pitched balls, but later clarified that he "did not mean to suggest fabrication (but rather) a failure to remember or recall".

Before Melick's clarification, Bruce Hodgkinson SC, jointly representing the interests of the players, umpires, Cricket Australia, Cricket NSW and the South Australian Cricket Association, robustly defended the integrity of the evidence given on the stand.

In defending the testimony, Hodgkinson told the coroner the Hughes family statements had been made "in a difficult and emotional time". That prompted an angry reaction from Greg Hughes, the late batsman's father, who with wife Virginia left the courtroom.

Hughes's brother Jason and sister Megan scoffed incredulously as Hodgkinson paid tribute to the 25-year-old Test, one-day and Twenty20 international batsman in his closing remarks.

"We wish to offer the support of the entire cricket family to Philip's own family," Mr Hodgkinson said. "The nation reeled in shock at the passing of Phillip Hughes. The reaction tells us about the affection Australia felt about Phillip and the privileged place in which cricket is held."

As Hodgkinson spoke about the "bonds of mateship" shown between players following Hughes's passing, Megan Hughes, the late batsman's sister, also left the court in tears.

The Hughes family had provided submissions to the NSW Coroner in early 2015. Players and umpires made their statements in August and September this year, some 20 months after the incident.

The family's concerns included allegations of sledging and unfair short-pitched bowling in the lead up to the blow that struck Hughes in the 49th over of the opening day of a Sheffield Shield match between NSW and South Australia on November 25, 2014.

Melick said the sledging and short-pitch tactic angles were pursued in his questioning because the statements from players and umpires contradicted that of the family.

More: Inquest for Hughes turns to response and policy

"It is not suggested that any sledging that occurred that day was responsible for the accident, but the matter had to be dealt with because of the continual denial of others present on the day that were not asked to recall what occurred until some 18 to 22 months later," Melick said.

"Such inability has placed the family in the invidious position of having to protect themselves of potential allegations of making untrue allegations.

"If it was conceded that day there was a plan to bowl short-pitched balls to Phillip, there was sledging and that he was targeted with short-pitched balls – all consistent with the way the game has been played since time immemorial – I would have had very little work to do in this inquest.

"It is not suggested that sledging affected Philip’s batting (but) the failure to remember or admit that it occurred must cast serious doubt on the accuracy of other parts of their evidence."

Counsel assisting the coroner, Ms Kristina Stern SC, reiterated to the court that the coroner was not required to make any finding or recommendation around the alleged sledging or short-pitched tactics in the lead up to Hughes being struck.

She recommended the coroner make a formal finding of an "accidental death" and that it was "unnecessary to make findings on sledging or other comments".

"The evidence shows the play in the period leading up to the incident did not exacerbate the risk of injury," Ms Stern said.

She added the batsman's death was "inevitable as a result of the injury he sustained" when struck by the ball.

Melick said the family's aim was to "assist in preventing another family suffering the same loss and grief".

"By already leading to improvements in emergency procedures part of the family’s aims have already been achieved," Melick said.

The family left Sydney's Downing Centre court precinct without making comment after proceedings had been adjourned. NSW State Coroner Michael Barnes will hand down his findings and recommendations on November 4, during the first Test against South Africa in Perth.