Hughes coroner to consider changes

NSW State Coroner hears submissions from legal counsel on possible recommendations to improve public and player safety at Phillip Hughes inquest

Dave Middleton, in Sydney

14 October 2016, 06:44 PM

The development of neck guards for batters, clarifying playing conditions on short-pitched bowling and continued refinement of the emergency procures and policies are the key issues to emerge from the inquest into the death of Phillip Hughes.

The NSW State Coroner Michael Barnes heard final submissions at Sydney's Downing Centre on Friday on an emotionally charged day as the army of lawyers involved took turns to submit their recommendations and formally offer condolences to the Hughes family.

Read more: Hughes Inquest breaks as cricket draws breath

Hughes was struck by a short-pitched ball in a Sheffield Shield match between NSW and South Australia at the SCG on November 25, 2014. He died two days later in hospital as a result of those injuries.

Barnes adjourned the inquest for three weeks and will hand down his formal finding and recommendations in Sydney on November 4. The recommendations will be delivered on the second day of the opening Test match between Australia and South Africa in Perth.

The coroner's Counsel Assisting, Kristina Stern SC, on Friday made a number of submissions that Barnes could make formal recommendations on.

They included:

  • Clarifying the Sheffield Shield playing conditions on what constitutes dangerous or unfair fast short-pitched bowling and how umpires should interpret those playing conditions
  • That there is greater clarity developed about who has responsibility for emergency management at the Sydney Cricket Ground
  • That umpires and players be trained in a standardised set of hand signals used by medical staff to signal for help, including a designated signal when an ambulance is required, the location of the medical equipment, and who has responsibility for calling emergency services
  • That administrators and venues provide further training for event management and operations staff on the hand signals used by medical personnel to call for a stretcher, medicab or ambulance response, and they be trained on the information required to be provided in the event of a Triple Zero call
  • That administrators and venues streamline the current medical briefing process to better delineate roles and responsibilities in the event of an emergency. This includes removing confusion over ambulance access routes or landing points
  • That umpires be trained for first aid and emergency management and to use their two-way radio to contact the match referee in the event of an emergency
  • That administrators conduct further research into the development of neck protection for batters and give consideration to recommending players wear any equipment developed

Legal counsel representing helmet manufacturer Masuri, which supplies some 80 per cent of Australian cricketers, said Masuri would work with other international helmet manufacturers to improve and accelerate the development of neck guards.

Counsel representing Cricket Australia said the governing body would continue to lead on the developments in this area.

The Hughes family's counsel asked the coroner to make a recommendation that statements are taken much closer to an incident in future. This stems from the differing accounts of events on the fateful day by players and umpires to that of the Hughes family. Players and umpires made their statements between 18 and 22 months after Hughes's death in November 2014.

The Hughes family's counsel asked the coroner to consider how an ambulance might be called as quick as possible when it is required and not put that in the responsibility of events staff.

The family also wants the coroner to consider recommending a revision of the playing conditions that would mean if the StemGuard clip-on protectors developed in the wake of the Hughes tragedy are disloged and hit the stumps, the batsman would be not out.

Under current laws, if a helmet is disloged and hits the wicket a batsman is out. The nature of the StemGuard protector is that they are designed to pop off as a means of absorbing the energy of a blow.

Counsel explained the family does not want any batsman to possibly be deterred from wearing a StemGuard over fears it may increase their chances of an unlucky dismissal.

There have been four instances of a helmet striking the wicket to dismiss a batsman in the history of Test Cricket.

The court had already heard evidence of the extensive changes to policies and procedures for emergency management in the wake of the Hughes tragedy, which was welcomed by the Hughes family.

"The family hoped that if an inquest was held that it in some way may, in the future, assist in preventing another family suffering the same loss and grief," said the family's legal counsel, Greg Melick SC.

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

Cricket Australia executive general manager Team Performance Pat Howard said the governing body would continue to do everything within its power to prevent a similar tragedy.

"We have the utmost respect for the coronial process, we have provided the detail of the improvements we have already made in the interests of player safety and we are open to any suggestions of further improvements we might make," Howard said outside the court on Friday.

"This entire process has been a stark reminder of the tragedy that occurred nearly two years ago and we want to do everything we can to avoid this happening in the future.

"We will now wait for the coroner to release his recommendations."