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The BHA’s competence and the sport’s weighing-room culture will each face the fiercest of scrutiny this week
Fourteen months after Bryony Frost lodged a formal complaint with the British Horseracing Authority that she had been bullied and harassed by her fellow rider, Robbie Dunne, the regulator’s independent disciplinary panel will finally convene in London on Tuesday to consider the evidence against him.
It is a case with no obvious precedent, which sets one member of the weighing room’s apparently tight-knit community against another. It has also been plagued by delays and leaks, including a release of the 120-page report by BHA investigators into Frost’s claims to the Sunday Times which prompted the Authority to refer itself to the Information Commissioner. The Professional Jockeys’ Association even suggested last month that the whole case should be abandoned, “however unsatisfactory that is”.
That, of course, was never going to happen, but an uneasy sense of a process that might lurch out of control at any moment has surrounded the case for many months. It will still hang in the air throughout the hearing.
If you switch on a bright light in a room for the first time in years, you can never be entirely sure what you might find in the shadows. Dunne, who denied the allegations in the report, is the focus of Frost’s complaint, but the ultimate scope of this week’s case goes far beyond what did or did not happen on three days at the races last summer. The weighing room’s cherished policy of self-regulation and the Authority’s competence as racing’s regulator will also face the fiercest of scrutiny.
With so much at stake, it is little surprise that the three-strong panel hearing the case will be chaired by Brian Barker QC, a former recorder of London and appeal court judge, and also the chair of the sport’s judicial panel. He will be assisted by HH James O’Mahony, also a former judge, and Alison Royston, who has ridden since childhood and is a former head of administration for the Premier League.
It seems fair to assume that they will approach the evidence and the case like any other, regardless of extensive coverage in the build-up which has also included comments by current and former jockeys to support of the long-established but unwritten rule that what happens in the weighing room stays in the weighing room. But we already know from the leaks to the Sunday Times that the BHA’s investigators sensed a definite reluctance by other riders – ie. potential witnesses – to speak fully about what occurred between Frost and Dunne.
Kempton Park 12.15 Noble Order 12.50 Raajihah 1.25 Dubai Immo 1.55 Just A Tad 2.25 Uzincso (nb) 3.00 First Charge 3.35 I’m Mable 4.10 Scarborough Castle
Ayr 12.30 Lebowski 1.05 Ardera Cross 1.40 Famous Bridge 2.10 Operation Overlord (nap) 2.45 Grand Morning 3.20 Golden De Coeur
Wolverhampton 4.00 Aljaryaal 4.30 Pretty Sweet 5.00 Night On Earth 5.30 Fitwood Star 6.00 Serenading 6.30 Wonder Elmossman 7.00 Beryl The Peril 7.30 Bomb Squad
The BHA, meanwhile, already faces criticism for the length of time it has taken to get the case to a hearing, as well as questions about the embarrassing leaks and the sudden departure of Chris Watts, its head of integrity assurance and the leader of the investigation into Frost’s complaint, a few months ago.
The overarching question as the hearing unfolds will be whether racing’s rules and procedures for protecting its participants from bullying and harassment in the workplace are fit for purpose.
The simple fact that a complaint by a rider has made it this far in the first place could be viewed as a sign that the BHA takes its responsibilities seriously. But whether this particular case is upheld or rejected by its independent disciplinary panel, the evidence that will be presented over the course of the hearing may well suggest that there is still much more to be done.