Parents of Siobhan Cattigan say lack of proper care led to her death

UPDATED: Scottish Rugby releases new statement in response to Sunday Times investigation

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

NEIL and Morven Cattigan, the parents of the late Scotland international Siobhan Cattigan, have said that the lack of proper treatment for brain injuries she received led to her death. 

Siobhan, a forward who played 19 times for her country, died last November. In an interview in today’s Sunday Times, her parents say that Scottish Rugby responded inadequately to injuries sustained both during matches and at training. The newspaper also reports that earlier this year the Cattigans joined a lawsuit alleging that rugby authorities could have done more to prevent the brain damage suffered by many players.

No details of Siobhan’s death were made public at the time, but the Sunday Times reports: “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”. 

The Cattigans explained that their daughter’s death followed a period in which her personality appeared to have changed in a manner, they believe, akin to dementia. They are convinced that mental change was caused by physical injury.

 “Something catastrophic had happened to Siobhan’s brain,” her mother said. “As time went by, I likened it to dementia, because I couldn’t think of anything that would change a personality so massively, something that completely alters you as a person.” 

Her father said: “They fixed her broken bones but turned their backs on Siobhan’s broken brain. Believing it was avoidable, knowing that you trusted people you shouldn’t have trusted, it just compounds my guilt. Rugby gave her the happiest days and memories — and ultimately rugby is why she’s not here.

“We believe that what happened was brought on by the undetected brain disease caused by repetitive brain injuries sustained on the rugby field. 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.”

One of the injuries which caused most concern was sustained in an international against Wales in April 2021, seven months before her death. After taking an accidental knee to her head in a tackle, Siobhan was treated for bleeding and given a head-injury assessment off the pitch. According to Neil, through the ear piece of the person treating her “She heard the coach shout repeatedly ‘Get her f***ing back on the pitch’.” 

She passed the HIA and went back on, but it was clear to her parents that all was not well.

“After that Wales game I got really worried about her,” Morven said. “I believe that things happen gradually, over a period of time, and just ended when it did because her brain was broken and nobody helped her. She was very detached, struggling with remembering things and indecisive. We were losing her.”

Scottish Rugby responded to the allegation of the repeated shout by saying: “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.”  

Scottish Rugby also released a statement to the Sunday Times in a more general response to the claims made in the article. It read:  “Our condolences and thoughts continue to be with the Cattigan family and from the outset we offered Neil & Morven our full support. 

“The mental and physical welfare of all our players and people is central to Scottish Rugby. We have excellent and dedicated colleagues throughout the organisation who are committed to delivering high standards of medical care and welfare support, whenever it is needed.

“Scottish Rugby has developed multiple ways in which mental health support can be provided and accessed, including through independent third party providers. However due to medical confidentiality we cannot provide details or comment on individuals. 

“The rugby community in Scotland is close-knit — many people in Scottish Rugby and across the wider game were deeply saddened by Siobhan’s passing and continue to be affected by it, having known and spent time with her during her rugby career. We continue to make support available to them, if required.” 

This afternoon, after several hours of deliberation about the contents of the article, the governing body issued a further statement. It read:

“The account of Siobhan Cattigan’s life and sad passing reported in the media today, as told by her parents, made for challenging reading. Neil & Morven Cattigan have shown enormous courage in sharing so openly details of their relationship with their daughter and the thoughts of everyone at Scottish Rugby continue to be with the family.

“In the letter of condolence sent to Neil & Morven last December from our Chairman, CEO and President of Scottish Rugby, we offered any support we could to the family, and that offer remains open.

“We recognise this has been a very upsetting time for the Cattigan family and Siobhan’s close friends, and if any of Scottish Rugby’s actions following Siobhan’s passing have made that more difficult, then we do, of course, apologise sincerely.

“The published interview covers a significant number of topics which we are now considering carefully. We will be working through it with colleagues and advisors to learn, from their perspective, more about the issues mentioned.

“We fully acknowledge the seriousness of what the family have shared, however there are details and assertions about how our people are said to have acted that we do not recognise, or accept.

“Respecting medical confidentiality, and with reference in the interview to a potential legal claim, we are not in a position to communicate further on any details of Siobhan’s care at this time.

“We will continue to work closely with the many people connected to Scottish Rugby who knew and played with Siobhan to ensure they are supported at this very difficult time.”

David Walsh’s four-page investigation is published in the Sunday Times today.

About Stuart Bathgate 1131 Articles
Stuart has been the rugby correspondent for both The Scotsman and The Herald, and was also The Scotsman’s chief sports writer for 14 years from 2000.

20 Comments

  1. Alasdair Reids piece in todays Times is very good on this subject.

    Agree with the sentiment here. MD isn’t the target and shouldn’t even be referenced tbh.

    A full independent inquiry is required.

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    • You have been all over this tragic story with your interpretations & comments, Dom. That’s your business.

      The Times, DW & AR have also been going to town on the topic, and some of the headline-grabbing one-sided speculation & hyperbole has been astonishing, not to their credit.

      Time will tell, and hopefully a decent respectful version of the underlying truth will emerge – from either an independent inquiry or as a result of legal proceedings. Right now, amidst lots of hearsay and speculation all we can see are the reactions of understandably distressed parents seeking some sort of rationale and / or legal compensation for the demise of their rugby-playing daughter by suicide. RIP

      • Interesting comment ES

        I’m at a loss to see where I’ve done what you claim. But everyone has their own perception of what they think someone said means.

        Independent inquiry ☑️
        Head injury player taken off and not coming back ☑️

        We can agree to disagree on the Sunday statement

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  2. A tragic case that needs a full, frank and independent enquiry to investigate the issues raised in the Times article.
    Dodson undoubtedly isn’t to blame for the sequence of decisions that led to to a such a terrible outcome. However, if he blocks or delays an enquiry then he should be held accountable for attempting to hide or obscure the facts leading up to this tragedy.

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  3. This important and sensitive – clearly tragic – matter, together with relevant wider issues of player welfare, requires serious, balanced, authoritative consideration (and commentary) devoid of emotions, distress, paranoia and knee-jerk rugby politics.

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  4. None of us know the SRU chain of events. All of us can only imagine the grief and anguish of losing a child and the desperation to find an answer, someone or something to scream at. Player care is higher than it has ever been. The implication that professional medics would ignore obvious symptoms and repeated call for help and intervention is extremely alarming and frankly unlikely. Without question a full investigation will be required however at this point using a tragedy to point score agains Dodson or SRU seems macabre and baseless.

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    • A good post and much more succinct a comment than I have just ‘binned’. Regarding her Father’s comment about specialist neurological specialists, I would have hoped even if it wasn’t suggested by anyone at the SRU or their Medical staff surely the parents would have considered that course of action, but as you say we don’t know all the circumstances, perhaps they did but.
      Regardless you have to have thoughts for the family and friends as I’m sure we all do.

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      • The parents did consider neurological specialists and asked if SRU could facilitate. They were told, “That’s not something we do”.

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      • @ Tony Kozlowski. Frankly I find your comment has to be questioned as to its veracity, there seems to be a bit of disingenuousness somewhere, sorry I just don’t believe that would be a response on its own. As regards the suggestion that they ‘considered’ seeking specialist help, surely there was nothing to consider, it’s the most obvious action a caring parent would take.

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  5. This is truly tragic and sadly not unusual. So; admit playing rugby may be fatal, like smoking. It’s akin to the boxing and AFL dilemma; do we fess up, admit that it may be detrimental to one’s health, and put the appropriate disclosures in place right up front (including in children’s rugby) or perpetuate denial, all is well and abstract the situation? or do we continue as is; increased game time, high impact subs, glory of the “collision” and truly pathetic and arbitrary “RTP” protocols (never observed)?

    Head trauma is a fact in rugby; the sooner the rugby authorities admit this, provide full on warnings, and then mitigate this aggressively (coach/ref tackle zone, stop impact subs, zero contact training, monthly brain scans, mandatory seasonal game time etc) the better. Won’t happen; money talks.

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  6. The article is a harrowing read – it’s behind the Times’ paywall but I’d seriously recommend taking out the month’s trial or whatever in order to read it. Really quite awful stuff that reflects very badly indeed on the SRU.

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  7. The article is very disturbing and requires a full and transparent response from Scottish Rugby.

    This particular case is harrowing and sadly resulted in suicide. There are serious questions that Scottish Rugby need to deal with as the care of players seems to have been lacking. There are to many stories of players with mental health issues not getting the support they need.

    The response from Scottish Rugby is very defensive. To use patient confidentiality to shield from responding positively is disappointing. I understand the concern with current or future legal challenges but the circling of wagons is the regular response to any criticism of Murrayfield no matter the seriousness of the issue.

    We need a cultural revolution where player well-being and safety are the key objectives of any team whether pro or amateur. Winning but damaging players physically or mentally is abhorrent and needs to be said by all. Head injury doesn’t respond to an HIA. No matter the brilliance of the medic, they can’t see inside the players head. They must be removed from the pitch and not return.

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  8. Very worrying reading having read the article in question. The SRU have many questions to answer here not least about their duty of care towards the players. That they haven’t been engaging with Siobhans family is pretty disgraceful.

    As we’ve seen in the mens game there is something very rotten in the culture of Scottish rugby.

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    • Mark Dodson has a lot to answer for here! Perhaps if he had invested more money in player welfare instead of taking in a BIG FAT BONUS each year this would have been prevented.

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      • I’m sorry but there aren’t many who are more disparaging of Dodson than myself but he has many more identifiable flaws that should suggests he Foxtrot’s than this very tragic case.

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      • I’m with George. I think Dodson is a total waste of space but to blame him for this tragedy when you see the problem exists everywhere rugby is played is frankly ludicrous.

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