Northern Ireland

Carrick pupil Ben Robinson died 'minutes after rugby tackle'

Ben Robinson
Image caption Ben Robinson died after collapsing near the end of a schools rugby match

A boy died near the end of a schools rugby match minutes after he was seen holding his head following an earlier tackle, an inquest has heard.

Carrickfergus Grammar School pupil Ben Robinson had continued to play, but collapsed following another tackle and never regained consciousness.

The 14-year-old was playing against Dalriada School in January 2011.

He was treated at the scene by a doctor then taken to hospital in Belfast, where he was pronounced dead.

His father, Peter, told the inquest of his concerns, as footage of the County Antrim schools fixture showed his son holding his head, then getting back to his feet following a series of bruising tackles.

"He was hunched, he was not his normal body position, you could see that," he said.

Witness statements

Ben's parents, Mr Robinson and Karen Walton, and their partners, were in court for the inquest, which was shown footage of the teenager talking to a team-mate in the middle of the pitch.

The family's lawyer, Gabriel Ingram, said the other boy was looking "quizzically" at Ben.

He added: "He appears to have his head off to the right and forward slightly."

Mr Ingram told the inquest that police investigating the schoolboy's death had drawn a blank.

An officer in the case conceded that it was only when lawyers for Ben's family became involved that some important evidence emerged.

Constable David Mannis took several witness statements but his initial appeal to the principals of both schools for pupils at the match to come forward was unsuccessful.

Traumatised

Mr Ingram said the family had been dissatisfied with the investigation, feeling it had been "in bits and pieces throughout".

"There were further material witnesses put forward by the family and Constable Mannis thereafter took their statements, and they have added in their opinion significantly to the truth of what happened on that football pitch," he said.

The officer was told by Dalriada principal Tom Skelton that pupils were too traumatised by their experience to give evidence.

Mr Ingram told the policeman: "You have lost a huge potential chunk of witness evidence by not pursuing it."

The lawyer said witnesses gave important evidence about Ben's injuries and demeanour as well as suggesting that he should have been taken off - but this was not followed up by police.

Mr Ingram said that after he intervened and sent out 300 letters to parents, up to six new witness statements emerged.

"Before my input, the net effect of your investigations into this case in terms of trying to get witness statements from the pupils is that you had drawn an absolute blank as regards Dalriada and Carrickfergus Grammar School," he said.

"You had drawn a blank in terms of leaving it in the hands of the headmasters."

'Inconsistencies'

The officer denied he had been out of his depth.

"I was not going to walk away and throw the towel in," he said.

Mr Ingram said he should have explored inconsistencies between a witness statement from the doctor at the match and his apparent appearance on the pitch in a video recording.

The principal of Dalriada High School said he had followed the officer's instructions and did what he thought was right.

"I was asked to ascertain if any of the pupils were prepared to give evidence and I carried out that request."

He added: "They felt they had nothing that would be of any benefit regarding the inquiry - their own focus was on the game of rugby."

The inquest continues on Thursday.

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