Scotland Women’s squad voice support for Bryan Easson and medical staff

Recent reporting of Siobhan Cattigan tragedy does not fairly reflect the environment within the national set-up, says spokesperson

Image: © Craig Watson - www.craigwatson.co.uk
Image: © Craig Watson - www.craigwatson.co.uk

THE Scotland Women’s squad have insisted that a recent report on the events leading up to the death of their team-mate Siobhan Cattigan does not accurately portray the character of head coach Bryan Easson or the commitment of their medical staff towards player welfare. 

Making public their views on the matter through the chief executive of Rugby Players Scotland (RPS), Bill Mitchell, the squad are adamant that they do not want to dispute what Neil and Morven Cattigan, the parents of Siobhan, believe.  But they nonetheless characterise the level of support they receive, both physical and ‘pastoral’, as very high.

Capped 19 times by Scotland, Cattigan died late last last year at the age of 26  following a rapid and alarming deterioration in her mental health. In a Sunday Times article at the end of last month, her parents revealed that they have joined a lawsuit being brought against Scottish Rugby and World Rugby alleging that more could have been done to prevent the brain damage suffered by a number of former top-level players.


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In the article, the Cattigans movingly voiced their hurt, frustration and anger at Scottish Rugby’s handling of two concussions suffered by their daughter in a 14-month period between February 2020 and April 2021, stating that they believed Siobhan was encouraged to continue training and playing when she was not fit to do so, and arguing that the appropriate level of medical and pastoral support was not made available when she started to become depressed and withdrawn.

“We believe that what happened was brought on by the undetected brain disease caused by repetitive brain injuries received on the rugby field,” said Neil Cattigan. “I am also convinced that if someone had referred Siobhan to a neurologist at any point during her illness she would still be with us.”

No details of the forward’s death were made public at the time, but the Sunday Times reported: “It had got to the point where she could no longer live with the pain in her head and Siobhan succumbed to an irrational thought and impulsive action”.

Mitchell – whose RPS association represents the collective interest of all Scotland’s professional rugby players – spoke to The Offside Line earlier today [Thursday] on behalf of the Scotland squad. “This is a truly awful situation,” he said. “We are all deeply saddened by Siobhan’s passing and very sympathetic to what her family is going through.

“We cannot and will not challenge what the Cattigans believe, [but] what we can do is put forward our understanding of how this squad experience playing for Scotland, and the support they receive.

“I’m not an apologist for the SRU and nor, in fairness, do the SRU expect me to be,” added Mitchell, who helped set up RPS in August 2019 against stiff opposition from Murrayfield, and who points out that it is one of only two player associations globally that does not receive any funding from their governing body, although he acknowledges that the two organisations do now have a very constructive relationship.

“My concern, entirely, is to address the perception that has been promoted that in some way, shape or form, the duty of care which is afforded to our [RPS] members is sub-optimal, is less than acceptable.

“Murrayfield get some things wrong, but this [player welfare] they don’t. So, the position that the squad is taking – and RPS is supportive of this – is that the level and standard of physical and pastoral care in Scottish rugby is very high.

“Are there things about being a Scotland squad member they want to change? Yes – it has taken longer than we would all have hoped to get to the stage where we are having constructive conversations about realistic contracts for the women’s team, so that is a frustration. But the healthcare they receive is excellent, the pastoral care is excellent, and they [the squad] are upset at the inference that can be drawn that it was less than that.”

 

It is made clear in the Sunday Times article that the Cattigans believe team doctor Carrie McCrae should have done more to provide appropriate support when it became apparent that Siobhan’s mental health was deteriorating at an alarming rate. This could not be addressed directly due to medical confidentiality and the prospect of a court case, but Mitchell stressed that the players were keen to highlight that this portrayal does not match their own experiences.

“Individuals in the squad have said she has gone out of her way on occasion to provide help and support when approached by girls – way beyond just the immediate concerns of physical care,” he said.

Head coach Easson was also singled out. It was claimed that as Cattigan was being treated on the pitch following a head injury against Wales during the 2021 Six Nations, the coach could be heard through a medic’s ear-piece shouting: “Get her f***ing back on that pitch, get her back on.”

Scottish Rugby responded to this in the original article, stating that: “Given the seriousness of this suggestion, we sought feedback from people who attended Siobhan during her treatment for this injury. Those people are categoric that this phrase was not heard or said and include the medic who treated Siobhan. Coach Bryan Easson, himself, categorically denies making this alleged comment.”

Later in the article it is stated that Cattigan was “screamed at” and told that there was “no room for anxiety” in the squad when she was clearly struggling during Scotland’s three-match World Cup qualifying tournament in Italy last summer.

“I have not heard anything about that,” said Mitchell, reasoning that such behaviour would not have been accepted by the rest of the squad.

“The squad are very supportive of Bryan Easson as the coach because they think he’s been great since he came on board,” he added. “Again, there are a few things Bryan doesn’t do particularly well, but there is unanimous feeling within the squad that the picture which has been painted of him and the way that he communicates is just not accurate.”

Mitchell acknowledges that refusing a request to have Cattigan’s name embroidered on the team’s shirts for their match against France during the 2022 Six Nations was a “mistake” by the SRU. An agreement was eventually reached to lay a Scotland shirt on the pitch ‘crest up’ during the national anthems.

Another bone of contention relates to whether some of Cattigan’s team-mates missed the funeral because of a failure by the SRU to pass on the appropriate information.

“Because of the deeply emotional and upsetting circumstances, there was a failure of communication somewhere along the line,” said Mitchell. “I am certain that there was no intention by the SRU to exclude anyone who was invited – I can’t see any reason why they would deliberately exclude anyone. The newspaper article was certainly the first time the team knew about it being an ongoing issue, so that came completely out the blue.

“The SRU are very clear that they were told there would be a list of people who could attend made available and that’s what happened.”

Scottish Rugby has so far resisted calls for an independent inquiry.

“There are a number of people looking at a number of things at the moment,” said Chief Executive Mark Dodson during a media briefing after last Saturday’s AGM. “It is not a review. It will try and establish the facts. That is what we are trying to do. Facts and timeline.

“This may end up in court proceedings and this may be the most appropriate place for this to end up.

“We are trying to establish the facts. There is one part of the story that has been out there. What we are trying to establish is the whole story. Until we establish the whole story, the timeline and facts, the facts will come out in due course.”

 

  • Since publication of this article, multiple members of the Scotland Women squad have tweeted a statement which reads: “As a squad we were never aware of this RPS article being published or the statements attributed to the team in this article. We are grieving our friend and teammate, our thoughts are with Siobhan’s family.”

Mark Dodson denies need for external inquiry into death of Siobhan Cattigan

About David Barnes 3112 Articles
David has worked as a freelance rugby journalist since 2004 covering every level of the game in Scotland for publications including he Herald/Sunday Herald, The Sunday Times, The Telegraph, The Scotsman/Scotland on Sunday/Evening News, The Daily Record, The Daily Mail/Mail on Sunday and The Sun.

45 Comments

  1. The Times and Sunday Times have since published the appropriate update on the counter-allegations from the players as an update on the original story, so in that respect, their articles are more accurate and balanced – so far. I think DB/Offside Line need to do the same. Not sure why they haven’t as yet.

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    • The following is my personal opinion for what it is worth and reflects no other.
      Just what is an appropriate update?
      As I have said elsewhere this is a subject that offers sympathy for the loss for a family but by the same token as it has been placed in the public domain questions the requirement to proceed using a national newspaper as an intermediary in addition to taking legal action.
      My basic opinion is that there are two aspects an allegation regarding player welfare on the field and subsequent support.
      From the information available regarding the secondary aspect I am sorry that the family concerned felt the need for a third party to replace or supplement their duty of care regarding subsequent specialist involvement, you do what has to be done, or perhaps there has been information that has not as yet come into the public domain, but to assert a different outcome would or could have been is to question all the parties involved not just the alleged parties.
      If the lack of information should prove that my summation of the situation is flawed, my apologies, neither myself nor other media brought this matter into public discussion.
      However as to my thoughts and comments, correct or otherwise at least I put my name to them.

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      • Well put George. I would add that, since David Walsh in his latest Sunday Times article asserts the the NHS were also lacking in their care (“… when they asked,pleaded and finally begged for help, they did not get it. Not from the Scottish Rugby Union. Not from the NHS”) would suggest that this issue now goes beyond the SRU alleged insensitivity and lack of pastoral care.

      • Thank you Ed, I have to admit that I am not following this story up in all media just what I have read here and Tom English piece at the Beeb. It is a horrible mess for the family but as EdC pointed out in their grief they are looking for answers, lets leave it at that.

  2. I have enjoyed reading the Offside Line articles over the past couple of years. It strikes me that if the author had sought to confirm the content with any of the players involved it would never have been published. The fact that the discredited article remains prominently featured leaves me distinctly uncomfortable and I can’t in all conscience continue to follow this website.

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    • Journalist prints piece from the official of the Rugby Players Association in Scotland. It’s also printed by the Herald.

      I’m curious what you are expecting Offside Line to do here?

      Interesting that the players who responded did so via Twitter rather than through any other channel. SRU statement perhaps? A full press statement? Demand a full correction from RPS? Nope.

      But by all means shoot the messenger.

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      • Is the first place for a journalist to start not normally ‘fact checking’ before reprinting?

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      • Fact checking that Bill Mitchell is indeed the chief executive of Rugby Players Scotland and therefore empowered to speak on behalf of the players he represents David?

        Or should every journalist conduct a straw poll amongst the people he/she represents before comments from a chief exec is reported?

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      • AlanJ – do you not think that the fact that the ‘Chief Executive’ does not appear to have been empowered by the players involved merits further (journalistic) examination?

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    • Journalist is approached with an interview from the CEO of the Players Association in Scotland. Same piece runs in The Herald

      Just what are your expecting Offside Line to do?

      But by all means shoot the messenger

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  3. I’d like to hear from David Barnes why after days of the article remaining up he thinks this is acceptable?

    Don’t just hide in the shadows David, speak up.

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    • Don’t hide in the shadows! From someone called tinfoil. Be quick. The festival finishes next weekend.

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    • Not hiding in any shadows “Tinfoil”. In fact, I’ve been out in the sun this afternoon watching Heriot’s versus Watsonians Super6 game. Using my real name and explaining my position on this to anyone who cared to ask (not many did).

      The reason the article is still on the site is because it is a legitimate news story containing an interview with the official spokesperson of RPS, who stands by his comments.The players are, of course, entitled to respond on the site, but so far have chosen not to take up that option (which is entirely their prerogative).

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      • It absolutely is a legitimate news story, but I’m surprised it hasn’t been updated with more than the players statement at the end. After all, the RPS spokesperson is standing by his comments despite them being disowned by the players. So he is either speaking on their behalf, with their permission, or not. It can’t be both. This seems like quite an important angle on the story if the RPS are putting into the public domain statements about the squad’s views without the squad’s permission.

        Perhaps you’ll put these questions to Ben Mitchell? In what respect does he stand by his comments? Is he saying the squad did have knowledge of the interview and the statements attributed to them? Or is he saying those statements are his opinion of what the squad believe and he is in fact free-lancing his own position? If so for what purpose, has it been at the bequest of the SRU?

        It appears to me Ben Mitchell has made quite a transgression and should be given the opportunity to make a public apology. It isn’t how I’d want my union representative to behave.

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      • Lots of fair points there, FF.
        I’m aware there are conversations going on over this weekend and I expect there will be some sort of clarification early next week.

      • I’m glad you recognise that FF has valid points David – it’s fair that the original story remains as is, as a snapshot of the reportable news at the time – but I also believe that since that remains as a “Headline” story on your site, surely the appropriate/accurate/balanced thing to do is to create the counter to this story, which is an article on the refutations and the ongoing debate that has since erupted since the original Ben Mitchell quotes were published?

        Seems like you’re saying there will be some kind of update – but I wouldn’t be waiting on the SRU/Union updating their piece – I’d have expected an interim piece on the fact that there has been this extremely important dispute in the meantime.

        Anyway, thanks for continuing to cover stuff that isn’t widely reported in other press.

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      • Thanks BryzzoWan78,

        I think it is fair to recognise that we have added the only comment made by the players [Thursday night’s tweet] to the bottom of the article.

        I am aware that some people have argued that this is not enough, but I would point out that the players commented on and then shared the article as is. They didn’t ask for it to be taken down or changed either on social media or through contacting me directly. My interpretation of this is that they wanted to make a point, so me significantly changing or indeed removing the article would almost inevitably run the risk of removing their voice/undermining their point.

        I have reached out to the players – via a senior member of the squad – but heard nothing back, so there is not much more I can add at this point.

        Bill Mitchell stands by the story. I am confident that there was discussion among the players and RPS about making a statement on this but clearly there is unhappiness about timing or tone or something else – we don’t know. The statement from the players isn’t entirely clear, do they disagree with what has been said or when/how/why it was said?

        It’s a messy and upsetting situation for all involved. There probably isn’t a right response. I have been advised that the players plan to make a further statement (which they really need to do before the build-up to Saturday’s game begins in earnest towards the end of the week). Until then, I am loathe to keep stirring the pot with continual updates that don’t really clear anything up.

        DB

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  4. Mitchell has told the Guardian: “The RPS are comfortable with the integrity of the article. We are concerned to ensure we protect the interests of the players, and conversations are ongoing to that end.”

    I can’t see how he can stand by the article after 20 players have publicly disowned the statements made on their behalf. What is he thinking?

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  5. There are some topics that do not take kindly to third party opinion or trial by media and frankly if anyone was looking for an example of such this unfortunate incident is a prime one.
    I can think of many questions to pose anyone of which would invite opprobrium from either party. I am no apologist for Dodson and Co. however there is no way that offering up an external enquiry with the prospect of intended legal action is the appropriate reaction from Roseburn Street.
    There can be little doubt that if any of us were in a similar unfortunate situation as the family concerned we would want answers, however there is on the face of it the questionable strategy of involving the Sunday Times. I’ve yet to see any individual that involve Court proceedings and a National Newspaper that hasn’t used that platform as a means to amplify their position, and look for compensatory satisfaction and consequently those who feel that some criticism might fall towards them will swiftly offer up a response.
    The fact that Dodson/SRU has basically said no more than ‘there are internal questions being asked’ is the correct one in my opinion and any further statement should remain until such time as is applicable.
    I said in an earlier comment that Dodson and Jeffrey’s made what looked like a rather inept response to the questions raised, having been informed that a GMC enquiry was already underway by Dr. Stephen Carty in response to my comments I am of an opinion that Dodson is correct in his position.
    There can be no doubt that the SRU and it’s staff will be forthcoming with their response with regard to the veracity of the accusations from the family as related in the Sunday Times at the appropriate time and that is not via the media or in an external enquiry that would drag this matter on for months if not years.

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  6. DB – an unbalanced piece based on no response. It has generated more misinformation that it holds.
    ES – the Cattigans have never mentioned financil compensation. Not every lawsuit is about money. Sometimes, the truth will do.

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    • Naive comment there, Tony K – these matters deserve closer scrutiny and deeper thought than that….

      While the T&ST pieces starting out with the original one-sided Walsh story that scraped the bottom of the barrel for muck-raking scraps of emotive tittle-tattle, the article here on TOL accurately represents balance in the comments of the RPS CEO – while, of course, the legal action referred to is absolutely about money, as is normal in such instances.

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  7. Surely it is unfair to leave that headline up, now that the truth has emerged. Sad to see the way this is being handled by the SRU and the RPA. It is making a harrowing situation even worse for the family and the squad. I do think an independent inquiry is required. In the meantime the women should be able to prepare for the World Cup without further pressure. We should all be seeking assurance from an inquiry that the game is being managed well. There are many indications this is not the case but a calm, independent investigation of the facts is needed

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      • The Times and Sunday Times have since published the appropriate update on the counter-allegations from the players as an update on the original story, so in that respect, their articles are more accurate and balanced – so far. I think DB/Offside Line need to do the same. Not sure why they haven’t as yet.

  8. Scotland Women squad have tweeted that this article does not accurately reflect their views – their voices were not listened to and they are being ignored again now. Take the article down. A little bullet point at the bottom acknowledging this is not acceptable as a disclaimer.

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    • That isn’t quite what their response says:

      ‘As a squad we were never aware of this RPS article being published or the statements attributed to the team in this article. We are grieving our friend and teammate, our thoughts are with Siobhan’s family.’

      Doesn’t say how accurate the comments were just that they didn’t know the article was coming out, weren’t asked for statements from the team and don’t endorse the article. Sounds to me like they desperately don’t want to be dragged into a public debate where they might not totally agree with the comments in the original Times article. They’re trying to be respectful and not be used as a political football.

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      • They’ve explicitly said that RPS did not consult them. This article claims that the Scotland Women’s Squad have made statements via RPS, they have said this is not true.

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  9. KK – with the greatest of respect, one wonders if that would indeed be the right call, under the circumstances, given the tsunami of sensationalist and rather one-sided journalistic reportage and opinion pieces (mainly from Messrs Walsh, Reid and Palmer or whoever at The Times / Sunday Times) seen to date. They have undoubtedly whipped up a frenzy, and we have even seen calls for the Scottish Government to become involved, which is plainly nuts!

    With so little in the way of confirmed facts around this thoroughly tragic story, it would be counter-productive to witness a descent into yet more unproven finger-pointing and / or denials, when it will surely be best to await the outcome of due legal process, in the absence of which a comprehensive internal or external review.

    The implications of much of this carry potentially heavy legal burdens, and it would be unwise for individuals or groups from whatever side of the fence to add fuel to the flames of unproven assertions and refuted claims.

    Distasteful, and harrowing – certainly, even to outsiders looking in on private grief. With numerous alternative routes open to them in their quest for financial redress or compensation, the Cattigan parents might well have considered with more care before entering the embrace of The Times / Sunday Times headline-pumping journalism. Right now, these bereaved parents are most probably reflecting upon just that.

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    • “whipped up a frenzy…”

      “headline-pumping journalism…”

      Smh. Someone died and the body responsible for their safety show no interest in finding out why. Reflect on your comment.

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      • Where does it say the body responsible for their safety show no interest in finding out why.?
        Just because it hasn’t appeared on the front pages of the Sunday Times, rugby forums and other courts of public opinion doesn’t mean it is being ignored
        As suggested, courts of law would be the best place to establish the facts.

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      • Your comment is utter tripe, and establishes no causal link to the death by suicide of someone who, amongst other things in her short life, played international womens rugby.

        You have only added further uninformed dissonance to the cacophony of misinformation by falling into the trap set by The Times & ST’s sensationalist reporting and opinion pieces – one-sided articles quoting several embellished, unproven and unsubstantiated allegations.

        Hopefully, the truth will prevail in due course, following due legal process and / or investigation. Until then, why not calm it all down and be more selective in what you consume from the media!

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  10. The women on the Scotland squad have refuted this article, and should not be attached to it. Please retract and revise immediately.

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    • Would it be too much to ask for some serious journalism during topics as serious as this?

      Please take this down…. To much news is going on for political points on a poor girls death (that was not directed at anyone but the whole story in general)

      Wait until the facts come out.

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    • I’ve read the players response. What on earth is the RPS CEO Bill Mitchell playing at??? I think he needs to offer his resignation.

      The squad have been put in a horrific situation by their own independent representatives. Can’t think of a more unnecessary and unhelpful intervention he could have made really.

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    • Why tf is the clarification AT THE END. Put it at the start since it contradicts the entire piece.

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    • have they refuted the contents, or simply indicated that they are unhappy about it being published without their knowledge or agreement?

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      • The handling of this by the SRU and the RPA has made a harrowing situation much worse for the family and the Scottish women. Surely time for a measured and indepenent inquiry to establish the facts, while the family and players are accorded some peace.
        I am surprised this headline has not been taken down when it is now clearly not true. The Offside Line are not responsible for the actions of the RPA, but should not continue to propagate misleading statements.

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