Published: 14/12/2017 16:07 - Updated: 14/12/2017 16:16

Kingussie shinty player cleared of on-field assault


Fraser Munro has not played shinty since he was charged
Fraser Munro has not played shinty since he was charged


There were whoops of delight from the public benches at Fort William Sheriff Court when a Kingussie shinty player was found not guilty of assaulting a Lochaber player during a cup match last year.

In what was believed to be the first trial of its kind arising from an incident involving two players during a shinty match, Fraser Munro was charged with assaulting Lochaber wing centre Jack Dignan during the semi-final of the MacTavish Cup  at Spean Bridge on May 14 of last year.

Munro, 30, a heavy plant driver from Kingussie's Orchard Court, denied that he had deliberately struck Mr Dignan, 22, in the face with either his elbow or the end of his stick, leaving the Lochaber player lying on the ground severely injured and with a permanent impairment.

The extent of the injuries to Mr Dignan, an electrician, whose address was given as c/o Police Scotland, were not disputed. The player suffered two fractures around his left eye socket and needed surgery to have a titanium place inserted.

Mr Dignan had told the court he could remember little about the collision which had occured about 15 minutes into the first half of the match when a free hit was awarded to Kingussie.

Defender Mr Dignan was marking Munro. 'He [Munro] ran towards me, then we turned together, ran for a yard or so and the next thing I remember is lying on the deck with an injury to my left eye,' Mr Dignan had said.

Mr Dignan only returned to playing shinty in July following the incident.

He was treated at the Belford Hospital in Fort William before being transferred to a hospital in Glasgow.

'The bone had been shattered in the eye socket,' he said. Mr Dignan's vision has since improved but he still suffers from problems.

Under cross examination by defence solicitor David Bell, Mr Dignan had denied deliberatly trying to foul Munro.

Mr Dignan confirmed it was he who had reported the matter to the police. 'I felt the Camanachd Association had not dealt with it in the proper manner and that it was wrong. I felt the association did not do right by me. I wanted justice,' he had told the court.

Match referee Evan MacRae had witnessed the incident, and submitted a misconduct report to the Camanachd Association.

'Jack was blocking Fraser with his stick, more like an ice hockey move than shinty, and Fraser's elbow had come up and made contact with Jack,' said Mr MacRae.

'I saw it clearly and it was a straight red card and Fraser was sent off. I saw contact by the elbow to the head. You just don't do that in shinty.'

Munro told the court that as the free hit was about to be taken, he took a couple of steps before feinting one way and then trying to sprint past Mr Dignan at speed for a possible shot at goal.

'He ran across and put what was like an ice hockey check into me. It threw me completely off balance and I was hit up here, on the shoulder,' said Munro.

'I don't know which part of me hit him. Next thing was I turned round and saw him on the ground,' Munro said.

Munro had sent Mr Dignan a Facebook message apologising for the accident and wishing him a speedy recovery.

Munro told the court he would never go out to deliberately injure someone. 'I never want anyone to end up in hospital from a collision.

'I'm sorry he ended up having to go through all those hospital procedures. I accept my part in his injury but I don't accept that I assaulted him.'

Munro told the court he, too, had since stopped playing shinty as a result of the incident.

'I just thought it the best thing that I step away from shinty as I didn't know what would happen with the police,' he said.

Munro admitted he didn't know if he would ever return to the game he has played for most of his life. 'I don't know if I can bring myself to go back yet,' he said.

Newtonmore shinty legend Norman MacArthur was called as an expert witness by the defence and told the court facial injuries were some of the most common suffered in the sport.

Summing up, Fiscal Depute Robert Weir had said Mr Dignan's evidence had been credible, as was that of Mr MacRae and the other Crown witnesses.

But Mr Bell argued that the Crown had failed to prove its case. 'This was an accidental coming together, at speed, with an instinctive reaction from Mr Munro to protect himself. I suggest the Crown has failed to prove its case beyond reasonable doubt,' Mr Bell said.

Giving her verdict, Sheriff Eilidh MacDonald said she fully appreciated how important shinty was to Highland communities but that she was not there to review either the referee's report or the Camanachd Association's decision.

She said she was there to determine whether the criminal offence of assault, as covered by the law of Scotland, had been committed.

'I am not satisfied beyond reasonable doubt that this was done with evil intent, and I give you the benefit of the doubt and find you not guilty of the charge,' she told Munro on Friday.

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