English Premiership 2009/10

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Guinness Premiership
Bath trio banned for nine months
August 3, 2009

Former Bath players Michael Lipman, Alex Crockett and Andrew Higgins have been found guilty of misconduct by a Rugby Football Union (RFU) disciplinary panel and banned for nine months after failing to submit to two drug tests.

The players were found guilty of 'conduct prejudicial to the interests of the game', but it is understood charges of taking prohibited substances were dropped.

The three players were ruled to have failed on two separate occasions to provide drug tests after an end-of-season celebration in London because "they believed there was a risk of positive results".

"If the players had nothing to fear from taking a drugs test then they would have taken them," the panel's statement said. "The reality of the case was that at the time when asked to take a drugs test, the players believed there was a risk of positive results.

"This was either because they knew they had ingested drugs or they had drunk so much alcohol that they could not remember whether or not they had ingested drugs. Each of the players therefore decided to play for time, keep out of contact and then hide behind legal defence."

The suspension - reduced from 15 months because of the players' good character and the panel's perception of the legal advice which they took - has been back-dated to start on June 1, the day all three terminated their contracts with Bath.

"All three players are absolutely devastated by today's result and that they have now been suspended from playing the game they love," said solicitor Richard Mallett.

"We would like to emphasise that the charges against the players that they had actually taken cocaine were dismissed at the beginning of the proceedings. They are of course considering their position and feel that it would be wholly inappropriate to comment further at this stage."

Lock Justin Harrison, who retired at the end of last season, has already been banned for eight months after admitting using cocaine at the club's end-of-season night out in London on May 10 - the same night after which Lipman, Crockett and Higgins refused to take club drugs tests.

The trio strongly denied any wrongdoing and with that in mind terminated their contracts immediately before a Bath disciplinary hearing. Premier Rugby, the umbrella organisation for Guinness Premiership clubs, backed the RFU decision saying that it vindicated the disciplinary procedures in place at Bath.

"The ruling has strengthened the Premiership clubs' determination to take appropriate action to protect the core values of our sport," said Premier Rugby chief Mark McCafferty. "We recognise that with the growing popularity of the Premiership comes increasing risks, particularly for the health and welfare of our players.

"Our priority is to implement the new education and discipline programmes for the 2009-10 season to further address these types of risk, with the Illicit Drugs Programme being the cornerstone."

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