Student died after uni rugby initiation involving ‘four hour’ drinking game

The ceremony took place in a garden shed with a tarpaulin covering the floor

A student died after a rugby initiation which involved a four hour-long drinking game, an inquest has heard.

Sam Potter, a second year at the University of Gloucestershire, passed out against a sofa after taking part in the game, where students drank “concoctions” in a shed with a tarpaulin on the floor.

He was found dead in the morning of 9th May 2019. Fellow students attempted to administer CPR, but a post-mortem found he had a blood alcohol level four times over the drink drive limit.

The “bonding and initiation” ceremony took place at the end of the term with 15 students from the rugby club in a garden shed, lasting from 2:30pm to 6pm.

Third and fourth years mixed drinks including rum, lager, Guinness, and “items of food and sauces”, police officer DS David McCoy told the inquest at Gloucestershire Coroner’s Court.

“Everybody who was there, was there of their own free will and voluntarily and engaged in those games voluntarily and were able to stop if they wished to do so,” McCoy said.

Students present at the initiation told the inquest Sam was one of the most drunk there. “At 6pm the initiation ended and Sam was still laughing and joking but very drunk,” said Nicholas Keohane.

Sam decided to stay at the house holding the initiation and “sleep it off”, said Ruari O’Callaghan, who lived there.

When Keohane checked on Sam at midnight, he told the inquest things appeared fine, but when he checked again at 5am Sam was cold to the touch and had not moved.

Paramedics arrived but could not revive Sam. The coroner found he had died an “alcohol-related death”.

“There was nothing based on the other students we spoke to that give us any cause for concern. It was a tragic accident,” said Detective Sergeant McCoy.

However, Stewart Dove, the university’s student registrar said: “There is no doubt there was a culture within Sam’s group which meant you probably felt you had to attend and had to join in. I don’t think we can try to dodge that issue. That is very clear.”

The coroner, Katy Skerrett, said: “Clearly, there is an element of peer pressure in any such event, but the evidence points to this being a voluntary attendance by Sam.”

The University of Gloucestershire made a number of changes in the wake of Sam’s death, including the appointment of a manager overseeing sport.

Sam’s parents said students were often not aware of the dangers of drinking large amounts of alcohol, or how to recognise alcohol poisoning.

“Education around this is the key. But so is the addressing of problem areas in the culture of sport that can exist at universities. Many of Sam’s student friends suffered too because of what happened to him that day,” they said.

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