The widow of the former AFL player Shane Tuck has told a coroner she will no longer take part in the inquest into her husband’s death, citing “grave concerns” about the scope of the inquiry and its ability to deliver “a just outcome”.
Katherine Tuck’s lawyer Greg Griffin wrote to the Victorian coroner’s court on Wednesday to notify it of Tuck’s immediate withdrawal from any involvement in the investigation, saying she considered “further involvement in the matter to be an arid exercise”.
Shane Tuck, who played 173 games for Richmond between 2004 and 2013, killed himself in July 2020 aged 38. He was later found to have suffered from severe chronic traumatic encephalopathy, the debilitating neurodegenerative disease caused by repeated head trauma, increasingly linked to long-term exposure to contact sports.
The proposed scope of the inquest into Shane Tuck’s death, when it was announced in 2021 under the coroner Simon McGregor, included examining whether the policies and practices of the AFL were “reasonable and proportionate” to address the risk of CTE occurring in AFL players at the time of his career.
The scope was later adjusted and reduced, and McGregor recused himself after submissions from the AFL requesting he do so due to him being the brother of a staff member of the AFL Players’ Association, which had referred Shane Tuck to mental health services. John Cain took carriage of the investigation.
Katherine Tuck flagged in 2021 that she was considering whether she should withdraw from the inquest due to its narrowed scope.
Cain said at the time that he was “far more interested in what the current state of play is in relation to the management of concussion and head knocks in the AFL and boxing” and that it was not his role to “apportion blame as to what has occurred”.
Shane Tuck had a brief professional boxing career after he stopped playing football.
Coronial inquests are intended to establish the facts of a death but the coroner is also able to make recommendations for the prevention of similar deaths based on the evidence presented.
Katherine Tuck was “frustrated by the coroner’s decision to severely limit the scope of the investigation”, Griffin said in his letter to the coroner this week.
“Her concerns in that regard were not aided by the submissions made by the AFL and the Richmond Football Club to that issue, which sought to encourage the court’s narrow approach.
“Mrs Tuck considers the manner of her husband’s treatment during the course of his playing career, and the relevant policies and protocols then in place in respect of head injuries and concussion, as critical to any consideration of the circumstances of Shane Tuck’s death, including as to the onset of CTE.”
Katherine Tuck is the lead plaintiff of one of two class actions lodged against the AFL in the supreme court of Victoria, along with former Melbourne player Shaun Smith and ex-Crows star Darren Jarman, seeking damages for pain, suffering and financial loss for former players who had suffered head injuries or neurodegeneration as a consequence of their playing careers, and for their family members.
“Unsurprisingly, our client anticipates that those proceedings are much more likely to provide a just outcome in respect of the death of her husband and the father of her children,” Griffin’s letter said.
The AFL has been contacted for comment.