Coroner rules Hughes death 'tragic accident'
NSW State Coroner questions sledging and calls for review of short-pitched bowling laws as he hands down recommendations into death of Phillip Hughes
Dave Middleton at the NSW Coroner’s Court
4 November 2016, 11:58 AM AEST
The NSW State Coroner has officially ruled the death of Phillip Hughes a "tragic accident" but has called for a review of laws around what constitutes dangerous and unfair short-pitched bowling.
State Coroner Michael Barnes also said alleged sledging played no part in contributing to the batsman's death in November 2014 after last month's week-long inquest was dominated by the issue.
Barnes said while it was "difficult to accept" the evidence of players and umpires that there had been no sledging during the match, it was clear that even if Hughes had been sledged it had no effect on the former Test player's batting and his death.
"The umpires, Phillip's batting partner and other players on the field all gave evidence that Phillip appeared comfortable, relaxed and in control when the threats were allegedly made," Barnes said today.
"That suggested that even if the threats were made they did not affect Phillip's composure so as to undermine his capacity to defend himself against short-pitched, high-bouncing bowling and so the threats could not be implicated in his death.
"On that basis, no finding is made as to whether the sledging alleged actually occurred.
"However, hopefully the focus on this unsavoury aspect of the incident may cause those who claim to love the game to reflect upon whether the practice of sledging is worthy of its participants.
"An outsider is left to wonder why such a beautiful game would need such an ugly underside."
The inquest had been dominated by allegations raised by the Hughes family that NSW Blues bowler Doug Bollinger had told the South Australia batsmen "I'm going to kill youse" during the fateful Sheffield Shield match in November 2014.
Hughes was struck on the neck by a delivery while batting for South Australia in a Sheffield Shield match against New South Wales at the Sydney Cricket Ground on November 25, 2014.
The 25-year-old died in hospital two days later as a result of a traumatic basal subarachnoid haemorrhage caused by the blow.
Barnes rebuked the focus on sledging during the inquest, which put the Hughes family statements at odds with the testimony of players and umpires.
"There was no need to try and resolve the conflict in the evidence about what may have been said," Barnes wrote in his findings.
"It is apparent that even were the threat made, it had no effect on Phillip."
Barnes referred to the "spirit of cricket" in delivering his findings, citing the practice of 'walking' as an example, but claimed those values had been eroded.
"With increased commercialisation and very lucrative contracts dependent upon individual performances, it is perhaps inevitable that these honourable qualities would fray," Barnes said.
"It is against the spirit of the game to direct abusive language towards an opponent.
"The repeated denials of any sledging having occurred in the game in which Phillip Hughes were injured were difficult to accept."
The Coroner also addressed the Hughes family's concern the batsman had been targeted by dangerous and unfair short-pitched bowling by the NSW bowlers.
"Phillip was targeted with short-pitched balls bowled at or over leg and middle stump that placed him in greater danger of being struck," Barnes said.
"However … Phillip was, because of his very high level of skill and competence, comfortably dealing with the short-pitched balls.
"I conclude that no failure to enforce the laws of the game contributed to his death."
Barnes said the Hughes family were denied the solace that Hughes had died doing something he loved "because they believed their son and brother died unnecessarily, as a result of his colleagues, his cricketing mates, treating him unfairly, and the umpires failing to protect him by enforcing the laws of the game".
He continued that while "clearly (the family) do not agree with what they heard" in evidence at the inquest, he hoped "they accept the compelling evidence that the rules were complied with (and) that Phillip was excelling at the crease as he so often did, and that his death was a tragic accident".
"Nothing can undo the source of their never-ending sorrow but hopefully, in the future, the knowledge that Phillip was loved and admired by so many and that his death has led to changes that will make cricket safer will be of some comfort," he added.
The Hughes family said they accepted the Coroner's findings.
"The Hughes family has today received a copy of the State Coroner’s findings into the death of their son and brother, Phillip," Hughes family spokesperson James Henderson said in a statement.
"Greg, Virginia, Jason and Megan accept the Coroner’s findings.
"They have noted the four recommendations made by the Coroner and Cricket Australia’s commitment to implement them.
"They are deeply hoping that no other family has to go through the pain of losing a loved one on an Australian sporting field.
"As the Coroner has noted, Phillip’s death has led to changes that will make cricket safer. The Hughes family hopes that this will be part of Phillip’s legacy to the game that he loved so dearly.
"They would like to sincerely thank the many people who have been in contact throughout and since the Inquest.
"The family will not be making any further statement at this time."
Coroner Barnes made four official recommendations as he handed down his findings at the conclusion of the inquest in the batsman's death in November 2014. He praised Cricket Australia, Cricket NSW and the SCG Trust for their work in improving policies, procedures and availability of medical personnel and equipment.
Review of the dangerous and unfair bowling laws
"In view of apparent inconsistencies in the drafting of Sheffield Shield Playing Conditions Laws 42.2.1 and 42.3.1 (regarding short-pitched bowling) and the uncertainty even among senior umpires as to how those laws interrelate, it is recommended that Cricket Australia review them with a view to eliminating any anomalies and that umpires be provided with more guidance as to how the laws should be applied."
Research and development into neck protectors
"It is recommended that CA continue its collaboration with sports equipment developers, consultation with players' associations and testing of existing and yet-to-be developed devices with a view to identifying a neck protector that can be mandated for wearing at least in all first-class cricket matches."
"It is recommended that the SCG Trust and Cricket NSW review the implementation of the policy governing the daily medical briefing to ensure that all key staff members are aware of its purpose. Consideration should be given to mandating that a single-page document is created at the beginning of each day's play that identifies the individuals who will discharge the key functions should an emergency occur, and that records the contact numbers of those people. Each participant should leave the meeting with a copy of that document."
The role of umpires
"It is recommend that the training of umpires be reviewed so that they can ensure medical assistance is summoned effectively and expeditiously."