Luther Burrell racism claims upheld – but Newcastle cannot identify perpetrators

·3-min read
Luther Burrell - PA Wire/Will Matthews
Luther Burrell - PA Wire/Will Matthews

An eight-month Rugby Football Union investigation that saw nearly 100 Newcastle Falcons employees interviewed over alleged racial abuse of former England centre Luther Burrell has upheld his claims, but the club says it has "no way to identify" those at the centre of the allegations.

In an interview with the Mail on Sunday last year Burrell revealed seeing a racist message in a WhatsApp group involving Premiership players while discussing other instances of racism passed off as 'jokes' or 'banter' about bananas, fried chicken and shackles as a slave.

Northampton Saints, where Burrell spent seven years, released a statement in June last year stating that Burrell had informed the East Midlands club he did not experience any racial abuse during his time at the club.

Newcastle, Burrell's final Premiership team, launched an internal investigation in October before handing the process over to the RFU. The eight-month investigation saw more than 90 members of staff connected with Newcastle interviewed, with the findings of the report released late on Saturday.

The report concluded that while "on the balance of probabilities the allegations made... are true", there was also "insufficient evidence to say whether these allegations occurred at the club", before adding that "on the balance of probabilities are more likely to have happened during [Burrell's] time with Newcastle Falcons".

One of the key recommendations from the report includes additional training and education recommended for employees and additional signposting for reporting concerns.

A statement from Newcastle Falcons read: "Luther raised numerous allegations and it remains gravely concerning that any individual would be subject to discriminatory behaviour within the game we all love, or within any walk of life. As such we welcome and support the wider action being taken by the RFU, alongside Premiership Rugby and the RPA, in terms of the wider listening exercise they’ve conducted across the sport and the resulting inclusion and diversity action plan – details of which are due to be released imminently.

"It is incredibly disappointing to learn that any individuals have ever felt subject to discriminatory behaviour during their time with us and we want to make it very clear that we do not condone any discriminatory behaviour, nor do we endorse the idea of classifying this as banter (as referenced in the independent executive summary). Had any reports of this nature been made to HR or management they would have been dealt with in the appropriate manner.

"Given that after an extensive investigation there remains no way to identify those involved in any of the allegations outlined above, that many staff and players have left since the time Luther was at the club, that the report refers to generally positive feedback on the culture and behaviours of the club and given that Luther’s stated aim was to educate and improve things for the future, going forward the club will be focusing on education and reinforcement of the aims and processes within our policies, as recommended in the report."

Burrell, who won 15 caps for England between 2014 and 2016, left Newcastle at the end of last season and played for the Barbarians against Northampton in November.