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Shane Tuck’s widow criticises probe into the Richmond footballer’s death at age 38

The devastated widow of former AFL player Shane Tuck has revealed that she no longer wants any part of an investigation into her husband’s suicide, after Victoria’s coroner told her it was not his role to blame someone over the death.

Key points:

  • The Richmond footballer took his own life in July last year at the age of 38
  • A post-mortem examination found he was suffering a degenerative brain disease linked to head knocks
  • His widow, Katherine Tuck, raised concerns about how injuries he sustained while playing might have contributed to his death

Katherine Tuck dropped the bombshell this morning, with her legal team telling Coroner John Cain that it was “unlikely” her involvement in the probe would continue.

“I think that it’s likely we will not be participating further if the position is what happens in the past stays in the past,” her lawyer, Greg Griffin, said.

The comments came after Ms Tuck urged the coroner to broaden the scope of the investigation into the death of her husband, who took his own life in July last year, aged 38.

“What the widow will be asking your honour to investigate is specific examples of how her husband was able to be so poorly and badly ethically treated by those doctors involved at Richmond, who allowed him to continue to play with numerous concussions, never, never requiring him to take a break,” Mr Griffin said.

“The words of the widow to me just then are, ‘It was the voices in his head that were telling him to suicide’.”

“The suicide, we say, was causative of the onset of this debilitating illness.”

Brain disease found during post-mortem

A post-mortem examination found that the hard-nosed midfielder had been suffering from a severe condition called chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), a degenerative brain disease linked to repeated blows to the head.

The condition can only be diagnosed after death and can lead to aggression, depression and paranoia in the years, and even decades, after the injury.

It is the same disease afflicting St Kilda veteran Danny Frawley, who had about 20 concussions over his career, and who died in a car crash near Ballarat in 2019.

“The debilitating illness … was, we say, caused by the manner in which Shane Tuck was permitted to go unmedically treated or not properly cared for during his lengthy contract, his period of employment, with Richmond,” Mr Griffin said.

“The widow would be very, very deeply distressed were this coronial investigation to take a focus on, ‘Well, what the AFL did in the past doesn’t really matter, let’s go forward’.”

“The AFL can say what it likes, with respect, now as to how it’s dealing with the issues of concussion but … that’s cold comfort to the widow of Shane Tuck, who has lost a husband and a father.”

Coroner says investigation not about blame

But Coroner Cain disagreed.

“I think what you’re seeking to do is to invite me to apportion blame in relation to what occurred, and that’s not my role, frankly,” he said.

Under its jurisdiction, the coroner’s job is to independently investigate deaths and use the evidence to make recommendations to try and prevent others from dying in a similar way.

“I’m not inclined to … embark on an exercise that involves me apportioning blame as you’re seeking to have me do in relation to what Richmond Football Club should or shouldn’t have done,” Coroner Cain said.

“I think the greater utility in my roles comes from ensuring, to the extent that I can, that both for boxing and football, and I guess any other contact sports, that there are appropriate regimes in place to ensure that the current participants are given the greatest protection possible.”

A Richmond AFL player tries to kick the ball with left foot with a Tigers teammate and Port Adelaide opponent next to him.
Tuck played 173 senior matches for the Tigers between 2004 and 2013.(AAP: Joe Castro)

The AFL’s barrister, Ben Ihle QC, agreed.

“Our client, the AFL, gives primacy to the health, safety and wellbeing of the players and all participants in Australian football,” he said.

The Richmond Football Club also backed the current scope of the investigation.

“My client respectfully agrees with the course chosen by your honour,” he said.

Rachel Ellyard, who is representing the AFL Players Association, said it was an “appropriate and balanced” move by the coroner.

Coroner Cain has not decided whether the matter will proceed to an inquest.