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Rugby player accused of gouging Gravesend opponent is cleared

PUBLISHED: 08:40 02 December 2010 | UPDATED: 09:01 02 December 2010

Clarence Harding

Clarence Harding

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A rugby player who was left partially blind during a match maintains his eye was purposely gouged despite an opponent being cleared.

Clarence Harding, who plays for Gravesend Rugby Football Club, was injured during a game against Maidstone RFC at Mote Park in January,

The Rugby Football Union (RFU) conducted an investigation after it was claimed Maidstone player Matt Iles inflicted the injury but he was cleared at a hearing on Wednesday despite the inquiry saying a Maidstone player did cause the injury.

The 27-year-old, from Gravesend, said: “I’m disappointed in the legal system and the justice system and the RFU’s decision, ultimately. Who wouldn’t be disappointed? It’s not a broken bone, a broken nose. That would get fixed over time. This is life-changing.

“I have always maintained, and still do, that this was caused deliberately.”

Mr Harding was taken to hospital following the cup game on Jauary 17 but surgeons were unable to save the sight in his eye. The number eight said the ball had been nowhere near his head at the time of injury.

During the hearing, the RFU said it could not determine which Maidstone player had caused the injury but were now considering disciplinary action against the club.

RFU disciplinary officer Judge Jeff Blackett said: “The injury to Clarence Harding was caused by a finger or fingers inserted into the eye, causing a laceration.

“The injury was caused by a deliberate act of a Maidstone player. Clarence Harding immediately alleged an eye gouge which he would not have done had it been an accident by one of his own players.

“A serious act of foul play has been committed by a Maidstone player.

He added: “We are unable to determine who that was so we are therefore going to place our findings before the RFU company secretary and legal officer to determine whether Maidstone Rugby Club should be brought to account.”

Maidstone Rugby Club said if any hard evidence had emerged to implicate any of its players, then they would have been dealt with by the club.

A spokesperson said: “Our sympathies remain with Clarence Harding who will bear the scars of this accident for the remainder of his lif

“None of these investigations uncovered any evidence that directly implicated any Maidstone player in an act that deliberately caused the damage to Clarence Harding’s eye. Maidstone Rugby Club maintains its stance that had any hard evidence emerged to implicate any of its players, then the player or players would have been dealt with by the club and the club would have co-operated fully with relevant external bodies.

“Maidstone has always worked closely with its local disciplinary body, the Kent RFU, to maintain the highest standards of behaviour on the field and will continue to do so in the future.”

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