Belfast Telegraph

Call for school concussion guidance

The heartbroken father of a rugby player who died on the pitch during a school game has said more must be done to highlight the dangers of concussion.

Benjamin Robinson, 14, collapsed on the field in Carrickfergus, Co Antrim in January 2011 and died from head injuries.

In an emotional outburst during his inquest in Belfast, the schoolboy's father Peter Robinson said that modern guidelines on concussion management should be issued to all players, their parents, coaches and teachers to prevent any repeat of the tragedy.

"Why does it take my son to die for this to come up?" Mr Robinson said. "It is simple. Schools issue it (guidance) out, get the parents to sign off on it. It's not rocket science. Give me a printer and paper and I will do it."

Senior coroner Suzanne Anderson heard how the schoolboy who was playing for Carrickfergus Grammar had appeared dazed and confused shortly before he collapsed.

A team mate, whose identity cannot be revealed after a direction from the Coroner, said Benjamin had been involved in three separate collisions during the hour-long match and at one stage had to be pulled to his feet.

He claimed that towards the end of the crucial clash with Dalriada High School, Benjamin had not been aware of the score.

"When Ben asked me he did not seem himself. He seemed dazed," he told the court.

"I just told him to keep his head focused and stay on the game. It was the way he said it. I thought he was dazed looking. I wasn't sure if it was something that was going on for a while. I did not think it was my place to say to anyone to take a player off."

The schoolboy, who did not make a statement to police until last year, also claimed that Benjamin's head had appeared to "jerk suddenly" after one low collision.

"I saw Mr Kennedy pull Ben to his feet. He appeared to be okay," added the witness who was dressed in his school uniform.

Barrister Ronan Daly, acting for Carrick Grammar, suggested that the teenager's recollection was "wrong" and that Benjamin had not been pulled to his feet.

Mr Daly later added: "I suggest that it is normal enough for a player whose head is in the game does not always know the score or how many tries there have been."

The barrister also claimed no medical evidence had been submitted to indicate that Benjamin had suffered concussion.

The Old Town Hall hearing was told that Benjamin had been checked several times for concussion including using the finger test of waving a digit in front of a player to check if he could follow it with his eyes.

Dr Michael Webb, medical director with Ulster Rugby, agreed with claims that the UK and Ireland was "playing catch up" with the United States in terms of concussion management.

Dr Webb, who has written and lectured extensively on the issue, said messages about the dangers of concussion were not being heard, particularly at the grass roots.

"Unless this touches you directly itself people do not take it on. It is very, very difficult to get the message out," he said.

"There is a massive knowledge gap there. It is not just rugby. It is all sports. The last two cases of concussion I have seen have been cyclists. But, you have kids falling in the playground, falling off trampolines and getting concussion. It is a society issue really. It is not just a rugby problem."

Throughout the hearing Ben's heartbroken mother Karen Walton choked back tears.

At one point she said: "This is about my son. This is about a 14-year-old boy who died playing a game of school rugby."

Ben's stepfather Steven Walton also claimed dissemination of information about concussion from rugby authorities to schools and local clubs had been inadequate.

"Dissemination of information has been woefully short. Four years after writing a policy and the pupils involved in a fatality have not received any training - that is just unacceptable," he said.

The inquest had been adjourned since last year to allow Carrick Grammar School to seek more witnesses with a new police investigating officer after Benjamin's family expressed concern about the original constable's handling of the case.

Last year State pathologist Jack Crane described the cause of death as Second Impact Syndrome, which causes swelling of the brain.

There is some evidence that children are more susceptible to it than adults because their brains cannot recover as well from a minor knock.

The hearing continues.

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