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.