8th October 2020
Nicholas Moss instructed by Freshfields Bruckhaus Derringer (both pro bono) represented the family of Luke Hobson, in the inquest into Luke’s death. Luke sustained multiple skull fractures and impact brain apnoea on 28 March 2019 when hit by another player’s stick during a training session at his local club.
The incident occurred about ten minutes into the planned session time and about 40 minutes after sunset, when some of the junior players were informally warming up; the coaches were not immediately supervising the session as they were focussed on turning on the pitch flood lights which had been taken off the normal automatic timer as it was the end of the season. Another boy (granted anonymity) was attempting to flick up and volley shots at the empty goal when he hit Luke forcefully, but entirely unintentionally, on his backswing.
The Coroner concluded that the lighting and lack of supervision may have contributed to the death but could not be said probably to have done so. Those issues were nevertheless recorded in box 3 as part of how Luke came by his death, with a conclusion of accidental death.
After Luke’s death, the club introduced new procedures to prohibit junior players going onto the pitch before the coaches are present and to ensure that no hockey activity takes place until the flood lights are on.
Recognising the important wider lessons to be learnt, in particular over mandatory coach-supervision of all junior hockey activity using sticks or balls, England Hockey has been liaising with the family and the club over significant new safety guidance. That guidance is being finalised taking into account the further evidence heard at the Inquest. The key change will be absolute clarity that, given the head injury risks, junior players must not warm up informally at the start of a session using sticks or balls unless qualified coaches are on the pitch supervising.
As well as the new guidance, injury reporting to England Hockey will be strengthened to better monitor head injury risks and coach education is to be amended. Recognising the action already planned, the Coroner will be making a preventing future deaths report to England Hockey in these areas. The Coroner has reserved a decision on concerns raised by the family about the inadequacy of investigations by the police and Local Authority.
England Hockey’s new safety guidance is be dedicated to Luke’s memory.