Club statement: RFU investigation

Wednesday 05 April 2023 Written by: Adam

We do not tolerate discrimination of any nature within our business, and we are committed to ensuring that any allegations of this nature are taken seriously.

To ensure an impartial process, the Club later asked the RFU to conduct the investigation and this investigation has been ongoing since October 2022 without any interference from the Club and with our full cooperation throughout the process.

During the process more than 90 people who work, or who have worked for Newcastle Rugby Ltd, were interviewed and the subsequent findings have been produced by an independent King’s Counsel (KC), including the executive summary released by the RFU.

**Key findings from the investigation**

The report has concluded that on the balance of probabilities the allegations made in the Daily Mail article are true but there is insufficient evidence to say whether these allegations occurred at the club.

The occurrences, that on the balance of probabilities are more likely to have happened during his time with Newcastle Falcons than not, were found to be;

• One Whatsapp message in a private communication group.

One comment was made in a private Whatsapp group. It is our understanding that a, or a number of, private WhatsApp groups exist and that these groups may contain current or former employees of the Club, however we have no visibility of who the members are. These WhatsApp groups were not provided, recommended, sanctioned or policed by the Club, nor does the Club have any access to them. They are private communication groups.

However, we are educating all employees that if they ever witness a discriminatory or inappropriate comment between employees in such a group, we encourage them to speak up and raise it with the Club at the time with details of the comments and the people involved. Should the Club ever receive a specific concern or formal complaint from an employee of comments made to another employee on such a group we would naturally take all possible steps, in line with our HR policies, to action this appropriately. As it is, such concerns have never been brought to the Club or its management by any employees.

• Two other incidents (one directed at the Player and one witnessed by the Player).

It is our understanding from the report findings that in relation to the two other incidents referenced in the executive summary one occurred on a night out and the other on an away trip. However, no further actionable evidence that would allow us to go down a disciplinary route as an employer has been provided i.e. names, dates, times or places. Naturally should any of that information ever come to light we would take all possible steps, in line with our HR policies, to action this appropriately.

**Key recommendations from the investigation**

• Additional training and education recommended for employees and additional signposting for reporting concerns.

We take our responsibility to help drive education and development in this area very seriously and are very much aligned with Luther’s aim of educating and eliminating any discrimination from across the sport. While we had already embarked on a full review of policies, procedures and training provisions following our return to work and the removal of red zone restrictions around playing and coaching staff after COVID in May 2022, we intend to take all possible learnings from the investigation report to ensure we continue to take every positive action we can for the better of our employees, our sponsors, our club, our loyal supporters and our game.

Luther raised numerous allegations and it remains gravely concerning that any individual would be subject to discriminatory behaviour within the game we all love, or within any walk of life. As such we welcome and support the wider action being taken by the RFU, alongside Premiership Rugby and the RPA, in terms of the wider listening exercise they’ve conducted across the sport and the resulting inclusion and diversity action plan.

As a club we have an equality, diversity and inclusion policy in place, any breach of which would qualify as a serious disciplinary matter. We have delivered ED&I training to all our employees, have bystander training sessions scheduled for all employees and are committed to annual refresher training. We are also in discussion with the RFU about training that will be provided more widely across the sport and our owner has met with Luther to further discuss how we can all work together more closely to ensure rugby is a welcoming and inclusive environment for everyone.

There are also other HR policies and practices in place with regards to whistleblowing, raising grievances and flagging a concern. We have taken steps to ensure these are regularly reviewed and training and guidance is delivered annually, and we remain committed to continuous improvement in line with best practice. We have also increased our signposting to this information for all employees and have recently started to implement communication lines that will ensure employees have as many avenues as possible to utilise if they wish to flag a concern with someone outside of their department. We will also continue to work alongside the RFU, Prem Rugby and the RPA to further our own education as we strive to achieve best practice.

It is incredibly disappointing to learn that any individuals have ever felt subject to discriminatory behaviour during their time with us and we want to make it very clear that we do not condone any discriminatory behaviour, nor do we endorse the idea of classifying this as banter (as referenced in the independent executive summary). Had any reports of this nature been made to HR or management they would have been dealt with in the appropriate manner.

Given that after an extensive investigation there remains no way to identify those involved in any of the allegations outlined above, that many staff and players have left since the time Luther was at the Club, that the report refers to generally positive feedback on the culture and behaviours of the Club and given that Luther’s stated aim was to educate and improve things for the future, going forward the Club will be focusing on education and reinforcement of the aims and processes within our policies, as recommended in the report.