By Peter Scargill
Reform to the appeal board to promote greater diversity and inclusivity will be undertaken by the BHA and the independent chair of the sport’s judicial panel following widespread criticism of the tone and conduct of the body during Robbie Dunne’s hearing last month.
The appeal in front of the three-man panel was criticized for its familiar atmosphere and tone, with racing writer of the year Lee Mottershead outlining how it felt like he was “witnessing a scene more suited to a London gentlemen’s members’ club”.
In a statement released following the publication of the appeal board’s written reasons for reducing Dunne’s suspension for bullying and harassing Bryony Frost over a seven-month period, the BHA said that it “recognizes and shares” the concerns that had been raised.
“While it is fair to point out that both sides received an opportunity to articulate their arguments before the independent appeal board, the BHA is aware of the criticisms of the tone and management of the hearing, and recognizes and shares these concerns,” the governing body said.
“A review of the appeal board structure was discussed some time prior to this hearing and the BHA will be working with the independent judicial panel chair on a review of the appeal board framework in the coming months. It is the BHA’s view that such panels, as well as having the appropriate legal skills and experience, ought also to be appropriately diverse and inclusive at all times.”
It added: “While the BHA considers the original 18-month period of suspension to have been an appropriate penalty, it accepts the decision of the independent appeal board to reduce this penalty.”
The appeal board expanded on its reasons for reducing Dunne’s penalty on Thursday, saying that the impact of the behavior on the wider public and the racing community was found to be overstated by the disciplinary panel.
Dunne, 37, had his initial suspension of 18 months reduced to ten months on appeal last month despite the appeal board labeling his behavior towards Frost, 27, as “reprehensible and disgraceful”.
The appeal board cited incidents such as Dunne allegedly opening his towel and shaking himself naked in front of Frost in the weighing room and intimidatory riding at Leicester and Market Rasen, as having happened away from the public or in a way that would have not been obviously clear to them that Dunne was carrying out a “vendetta” between February and September 2020, as Frost had stated in the original hearing.
Explaining its reasons, the appeal board wrote: “The disciplinary panel regarded an important feature of the case to be that ‘the conduct was in front of the wider public and of the racing community’.
“This was, with respect, a peculiar point to stress: the towel incident was obviously not in front of the wider public; those viewing the Leicester incident on television would not have appreciated that a piece of riding which would have been perfectly acceptable on the part of Tom Scudamore was unacceptable because Mr Dunne was in the saddle; the Twitter post would have been seen only by Mr Dunne’s followers, who might possibly have found it amusing but were as likely to find it unprofessional and silly, as it was.
“It was accepted that no member of the public could have heard Mr Dunne’s foul language at the finish at Stratford; the flexing of the rail at Market Rasen, if seen on television, would have been seen as just that – a horse getting too close to the inside, which frequently happens; no member of the public was said to have heard the words used at the start at Uttoxeter; and the Southwell incident took place in the privacy of the weighing room.”
The appeal board also outlined how it believed Dunne had not been given sufficient credit for an attempted apology to Frost at Bangor the day after Stratford, or for his willingness to take part in a reconciliation that did not go ahead at Kempton, which the appeal board stated was “somewhat clumsily handled”.
Dunne should also have received credit for admitting to a breach of rule (J) 20 with regard to improper conduct at Southwell on September 3, 2020 when he told Frost that “you murder f****** everyone and I promise you the next time we ride against each other I am going to hurt you.” The breach was subsequently superseded by the more serious breach of rule (J) 19.
Mike Egerton (Getty Images)
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Robbie Dunne: suspension was reduced to ten months on appeal
Mike Egerton (Getty Images)
In reducing the penalty to ten months from 18 months, three of which were to be suspended, the appeal board concluded the original decision had been “excessively severe” and that the rider should have been found guilty of one breach of rule (J) 19 , conduct prejudicial to the reputation of British racing, rather than the cumulative four breaches found by the disciplinary panel.
The appeal board added: “As we made clear at the end of the oral appeal hearing, we agree that Mr Dunne’s behavior in bullying and harassing Ms Frost over an extended period was reprehensible and disgraceful.
“Bullying and harassing, whether on grounds of gender, race, age, amateur status or in any other circumstances, can never be acceptable in horseracing, or indeed in any other sport. Any jockey or other person found to have committed such behavior must expect to receive serious punishment.”
The application of rule (J) 19 was queried by the appeal board, which stated that it was “left in considerable doubt as to whether the course taken in the present case was a correct one” with Dunne having also been charged under rule (J ) 20 in relation to incidents at Leicester, Stratford, Uttoxeter and Southwell.
The appeal board stated that while rule (J) 19 allowed the BHA to apply it “additionally or alternatively” to other charges, this left room for confusion with those charged potentially unaware this could be the case.
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FIRST PUBLISHED 2:44PM, APR 21 2022