Former British Cycling and Team Sky doctor Richard Freeman did order testosterone knowing or believing it was to be given to a rider for the purposes of doping, a tribunal has found.
Dr Freeman admitted 18 of 22 charges against him relating to the ordering of a package of Testogel to British Cycling headquarters in 2011 but denied the central charge regarding its purpose.
The case was brought by the General Medical Council and Dr Freeman’s former employers but there is no doubt this is another major blow to the reputation of Britain’s flagship Olympic sport.
In making its decision, the Medical Practitioners Tribunal said Dr Freeman’s evidence was “implausible”, “dishonest” and “incapable of innocent explanation”.
The long-running hearing began more than two years ago but was delayed repeatedly by Dr Freeman’s ill health, coronavirus-related restrictions and difficulties in scheduling.
Dr Freeman claimed he had been bullied into ordering the testosterone to treat former performance director Shane Sutton’s erectile disfunction, which the Australian strenuously denied on an explosive day of testimony in 2019.
Sutton stormed out before completing his evidence, calling Dr Freeman a liar and a “spineless individual”, but the tribunal found him to be a credible and consistent witness.
The decision read: “To be clear, Mr Sutton’s behaviour during the hearing was intemperate. Nevertheless, the Tribunal had no basis to determine his evidence untruthful.
“The Tribunal determined that Dr Freeman’s evidence was implausible. It did not believe he ordered the Testogel for Mr Sutton.”
Dr Freeman admitted 18 of 22 charges
Denied he had ordered Testogel for the purposes of doping
Claimed order was to treat Shane Sutton’s erectile dysfunction
Former performance director Sutton strenuously denied claim
Tribunal found Testogel order was made knowing or believing it was to be given to a rider for the purposes of doping.
Tribunal will sit next week to determine sanctions.
The Tribunal cited a lack of any paperwork to back up Dr Freeman’s claim that the Testogel was for Sutton and no evidence that he had any need for it.
The panel also found no evidence to support Dr Freeman’s assertion that he was being bullied by Sutton at that time, although it accepted their relationship deteriorated later.
“The Tribunal was aware, of course, that poor record-keeping by Dr Freeman had been admitted by him elsewhere in the allegation,” the document continued.
“However, it stretched credulity that a high-profile, experienced sports doctor would order a potential banned substance under the WADA code; yet, despite the significance of this, fail to make a record of the intended patient, the circumstances, and the proposed off-label use.”
Dr Freeman’s lies began when the package was opened by his colleague, Dr Phil Burt.
The doctor initially claimed it had been sent in error by supplier Fit4Sport and told his colleagues he would send it back. He persuaded an employee at the company to send an email supporting this and stating that the Testogel would be destroyed.
It was not until a 2017 interview with UK Anti-Doping that Dr Freeman brought Sutton into the picture, while he claimed for the first time during the hearing that he had taken the Testogel home and washed it down the sink.
Dr Freeman cited Sutton’s bullying as to why he did not tell his colleagues who the medication was for, something the tribunal also dismissed as “inexplicable”.
The tribunal reserved its strongest criticism for Dr Freeman’s mixing up of patches and gel – he had initially made reference to the testosterone as patches and implied, because they would be visible, they would not be used for doping.
“The Tribunal considered his account in this regard was wholly untenable. It was clear that Dr Freeman had been deliberately seeking to distance himself from an understanding that what he had ordered was a gel,” it said.
“He was being dishonest in this area of his evidence and seeking to mislead the Tribunal.”
The GMC’s QC, Simon Jackson, accepted that he had not provided any direct evidence linking the Testogel to a rider and, in her summing up, Mary O’Rourke QC, on behalf of Dr Freeman, said the case was built on “surmise and speculation”.
O’Rourke said: “They haven’t got a smidgen of evidence to show that he ordered the Testogel in order to dope a rider. They can’t identify a rider… it doesn’t add up.”
The tribunal, though, disagreed, saying: “In conclusion, taking all these issues together, the Tribunal found that Dr Freeman’s account of having ordered the Testogel for Mr Sutton required it to believe too many implausible, unsupported assertions, as well as having to overlook further falsehoods, on the back of those Dr Freeman had already admitted.
“Simply, on the balance of the evidence, the Tribunal did not believe him.
“The position therefore is this. In May 2011, Dr Freeman, the team doctor for a team of elite cyclists and a member of the anti-doping working group, ordered a doping ‘drug of choice’ for that sport.
“Upon its arrival, he was dishonest about why it had been sent, removed it from the Velodrome, and it was never seen again. The Tribunal found that Dr Freeman has been dishonest in its regard ever since.
“Overall, then, taking all those factors into account, and bearing in mind the breadth of Dr Freeman’s dishonesty and the number of people he had pulled into it, the Tribunal found his conduct incapable of innocent explanation.
“It was clear that, on the balance of probabilities, the inference could properly be drawn that, when Dr Freeman placed the order and obtained the Testogel, he knew or believed it was to be administered to an athlete to improve their athletic performance.”
The tribunal also determined it had been proved that the motive for Dr Freeman’s actions was to conceal his conduct.
The one charge that was found to be not proved was that Dr Freeman knew the Testogel was not clinically indicated for Sutton.
Regarding that decision, the tribunal said Sutton was “entirely irrelevant to Dr Freeman’s consideration at those times”.
The tribunal will sit again next week to determine what sanctions Dr Freeman will face and whether he will be deemed unfit to continue to practise medicine.
Dr Freeman is also facing two UKAD charges regarding the ordering of the testosterone.
In a statement, UKAD chief executive Nicole Sapstead said: “UKAD can confirm that Dr Richard Freeman has been charged under the UK Anti-Doping Rules with two violations – Possession of Prohibited Substances and/or Prohibited Methods and Tampering or Attempted Tampering with any part of Doping Control.
“While the charges are pending, Dr Freeman is subject to a provisional suspension from all sport.”
Former British Cycling and UCI president Brian Cookson, who was at the head of the national governing body from 1996 to 2013, said he was “tremendously disappointed and saddened” by the verdict, adding that Freeman’s actions did not reflect the work of the organisation as a whole.
“I made anti-doping a key focus of my time both with British Cycling and later with the International Cycling Union (UCI), working closely with the World Anti-Doping Agency and other key partners to ensure robust and independent testing, transparency and to establish a culture of fair play,” a statement said.
“That this should now be open to question is a matter of extreme concern to me and all of those who work or have worked behind the scenes in our sport, in governance, management, administration and coaching, whether as staff or volunteers.”
However Damian Collins MP, former chair of the Parliamentary committee which held hearings into possible violations of anti-doping regulations, said the verdict represented a failure of both British Cycling and Team Sky as a hole.
“This case is not just about the failure of one many to adhere to the rules and the standards expected of him, but a failure at that time of the management of the teams he worked for, including the national governing body of the sport,” he said.