England’s 2003 Rugby World Cup winners Phil Vickery and Mark Regan, as well as former Wales star Gavin Henson, are among the 295 players that are taking legal action against World Rugby, the Rugby Football Union and the Wales Rugby Union after suffering symptoms from brain injury, it can now be revealed.
All three players were on a fresh batch of 226 names that was published on Friday evening after the players’ lawyers asked for reporting restrictions regarding their anonymity to be lifted at the high court in London.
It means that three of England’s victorious 2003 squad have now come forward to say they are taking legal action because of neurological issues which they blame on playing the sport. In 2020, the team’s hooker, Steve Thompson, told the Guardian that he had early onset dementia and could not remember his side’s World Cup win.
The former England scrum-half, Harry Ellis, and former Wales captain, Colin Charvis, are other prominent names on the list which includes a raft of international and club stalwarts from the early 2000s. All 295 players are seeking damages as they argue that World Rugby, the RFU and WRU were negligent and failed in their duty of care by not putting in place any reasonable measures to protect their health and safety.
That claim is strongly rejected by all three governing bodies, who in turn have criticised the players’ solicitors for withholding medical records and delaying the case.
The release of the majority of the 295 names followed a session at the high court on Friday when a request by the players’ lawyers to establish a group litigation order (GLO) to allow the legal action to come under one umbrella, was denied. While the senior master in the case, Jeremy David Cook, appeared sympathetic to granting such an order in the future, he said it was not possible without having detailed medical records of any of the 295 players involved.
Cook also expressed his frustration with the players’ legal team, telling them: “Unless the medical records are prepared properly, we’re going to have a lot of issues. The very least one needs in a case of this kind is medical records.”
Such records were a necessity, Cook explained, as it would allow both sides to fairly pick a smaller number of cases that would serve as a proxy for all 295 players when it was finally heard in full. He also dismissed a suggestion by the claimants’ KC, Susan Rodway, that thumbnail sketches should be sufficient.
“In an individual injury case, the first thing you ask for in order to verify someone’s history is a proper medical report,” Cook told the court. “There is a process and it must be fair. When one produces a condition and prognosis report, one must supply a medical history. It seems to me that it is absolutely basic. There is no liability without causability injury.”
Cook also urged the two sides to work together to remove any blockages before the next hearing, which he said would take place in late April or early May. “You are missing each other, you are passing like ships in the night,” he told them, before adding that unless there was progress “we will be going around and around the wheels of death on a computer, going nowhere”.
After the announcement of the 226 names, World Rugby, the RFU and WRU issued a statement where they expressed sympathy with the players but also made clear their exasperation with yet another delay in the case.
“Whilst today’s case management hearing was necessarily about legal process, we must not forget about the people and players at the heart of this case,” it read. “Legal action prevents us from reaching out to support the players involved, many of whom are named publicly for the first time today. But we want them to know that we care deeply about their struggles, that we are listening and that they are members of the rugby family.
“The court’s ruling for the second time that the claimants’ solicitors must provide information previously asked for is a positive step. The further delay to the case is regrettable and the players’ lawyers seemingly prioritising media coverage over meeting their legal obligations, is challenging for all concerned; not least the players themselves. The statement also insisted that the governing bodies’ put player welfare as the sport’s “top priority”. “Rugby is committed to leading the welfare agenda in sport, driven by evolving science and research to protect and support players at all levels,” it added.--