Kent

Maidstone RFC 'tarnished' by RFU eye gouging ruling

Clarence Harding's eye injury
Image caption Clarence Harding was injured during a rugby game between Gravesend and Maidstone in January 2010

A Kent rugby club has claimed its reputation has been "unfairly and unduly tarnished" over the case of an opposing player left blind in one eye.

Maidstone RFC was fined £2,000 and 50 points after it was found guilty of conduct prejudicial to the interests of the game by the Rugby Football Union.

Clarence Harding's right eye was gouged during a game between Gravesend Rugby Club and Maidstone on 17 January 2010.

The RFU said it was confident the correct processes had been followed.

The club said no firm evidence had showed Mr Harding's injury was caused by a Maidstone player.

At a hearing in November, the RFU said it could not be determined which player was responsible for causing the injury in the match at Mote Park.

Judge Jeff Blackett, chief disciplinary officer, cleared Maidstone player Matt Iles of eye gouging at a previous hearing, but he also determined Mr Harding had been injured in a deliberate act.

Maidstone RFC said the RFU had based its conclusions on evidence of a medical expert who did not examine Mr Harding.

It said the evidence of an eye surgeon who examined Mr Harding - that his injury was not necessarily caused by fingers being inserted in the eye - was discounted.

'Vast experience'

The club said it "could not help but believe it had been singled out and chosen to be made an example of".

It added that "reputation of the club, its members, officers and players have all been unfairly and unduly tarnished".

The RFU said the case had been dealt with by three separate disciplinary panels, chaired among others by the RFU disciplinary officer and the Judge Advocate General - the senior military judge in the country.

"All nine members of the panels have extensive knowledge of law and are vastly experienced in rugby disciplinary matters," a spokesperson said.

"The first panel found that this was a deliberate case of eye gouging by one of three Maidstone players.

"The second panel found the club guilty of conduct prejudicial to the interests of the game in that they were responsible for the action of unidentified players, one of whom made deliberate contact with the eye of Clarence Harding.

"The third panel heard the appeal by Maidstone which was subsequently abandoned."

Mr Harding has recently had surgery to remove his eye because of the "constant pain" caused by the injury.

"It's got rid of all my pain now, and I can start again," he said.

Mr Harding added that he was "looking into legal action" over the incident which led to his injury.

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