Belfast Telegraph

Did my son have to die for us to take concussion seriously? A broken father's plea over tragic Ben

BY CHRIS KILPATRICK

The devastated father of a 14-year-old boy who died after sustaining a head injury in a school rugby match said more must be done to prevent similar tragedies.

Ben Robinson died from a brain injury he sustained while playing for Carrickfergus Grammar in 2011.

An inquest into his death is considering whether he was concussed at an earlier stage of the match and should have been taken off prior to another blow late in the game.

In an emotional outburst during the hearing, the schoolboy's father, Peter Robinson, said 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."

The teenager was involved in a number of heavy challenges during the game, the inquest heard.

His family believe he should have been taken from the field halfway though the match but was allowed to continue.

State Pathologist Jack Crane believes Ben died from second impact syndrome – two heavy knocks close to each other which caused swelling in the brain.

As well as Ben's father, his mother Karen Walton and their respective partners were in the Coroner's Court in Belfast's Old Town Hall for yesterday's hearing.

At one point during the proceedings, Ms Walton told the inquest: "This is about my son. This is about a 14-year-old boy who has died playing a game of school rugby... school rugby."

One of those playing alongside Ben told the inquest his friend seemed dazed and confused following two tackles.

He said Ben remained on the ground for up to 20 seconds following the tackles, during one of which he appeared to sustain a sharp crank of his neck.

The teenager, who cannot be named, said his friend asked him the score of the game at one point.

He said he heard Ben's mother's voice towards the end of the game following the third and final heavy tackle he was involved in.

Giving evidence at the hearing, the team-mate said he had a vivid recollection of the Medallion Shield match between his school, Carrickfergus Grammar, and Dalriada in January 2011. He told how Ben had tackled an opposition player about 10 minutes before the end of the first half.

The teenager said the other player got back to his feet while Ben remained on the ground for around 10 seconds. He told the inquest Ben was holding his head.

A coach came onto the pitch to check on him and after around six seconds Ben stood up, he said.

He then described another incident in the second half of the match when Ben tackled another player, both going to ground.

He said Ben's head appeared to jerk to the right and that coach, Neal Kennedy, again approached the teenager.

The witness said Ben was on the ground for around 20 seconds and claimed he saw the coach pull Ben to his feet.

About five minutes later in the game, the witness said Ben asked him what the score was.

"I told him to keep his head on the game," said the teenager.

He said his friend "didn't seem himself... he seemed dazed".

A third tackle late in the game resulted in Ben going to ground again, said the witness.

The players headed for the changing rooms at full-time and it was there they were informed Ben had been taken to hospital, he said. "I can still remember most of what happened during the match as it was an important match to me because of what happened."

When asked what position he was playing that day, the teenager said he was unsure if he had been second row or flanker.

The schoolboy said he and his other team-mates had struggled for some time following the death of their friend.

His evidence differed from that given by another player who said he had no memory of any incidents in the first half of the game. Ben's mother was visibly upset while evidence was given.

The medical director of Ulster Rugby, Dr Michael Webb, told the hearing the UK and Ireland was lagging behind other countries in understanding risks posed to players by concussion. Mr Webb has been involved with professional sport for around 15 years and written and lectured on concussion and brain injuries.

He said since the tragedy, updated guidance had been published for medical professionals, as well as a pocket guide for coaches, teachers and volunteers.

"It's a massive issue in the US at the moment," he said.

Asked if those in local rugby were "playing catch-up", he replied: "I think we are. There's a massive knowledge gap there.

"Not just rugby, it's all sports."

The inquest continues.

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