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Leak reveals complaint by Bryony Frost to BHA of ‘bullying and intimidation’

The Guardian logo The Guardian 17/10/2021 Greg Wood

An apparent culture in National Hunt racing’s weighing rooms which accepts bullying and intimidation as a normal part of a jump jockey’s job has been exposed in a report in the Sunday Times. It follows the leak of a report by a British Horseracing Authority investigator into a complaint of bullying lodged by Bryony Frost against her fellow jockey Robbie Dunne.

The existence of a potential disciplinary case involving Frost and a weighing-room colleague has been widely acknowledged within racing for many months. The BHA confirmed in a statement that the “case is close to reaching its conclusion”.

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Frost said after her success on Frodon in the King George VI Chase last December that some issues were “hard for me to chat about because there are still things that need to be sorted out”. Her comment was followed by a report in February that a dispute between Frost and Dunne centred on a race at Southwell in September 2020, in which Dunne’s mount, Cillian’s Well, suffered a fatal fall.

The Sunday Times report confirms that Frost lodged a formal complaint against Dunne, alleging “bullying and intimidation in the workplace”, after an angry and abusive confrontation between the two riders after the race at Southwell on 3 September 2020. Following an investigation led by Chris Watts, the BHA’s former head of integrity, Dunne was informed in April that he faced disciplinary charges including “conduct prejudicial to the integrity or good reputation” of the sport.

Having seen a leaked copy of Watts’s 120-page report, however, David Walsh, the paper’s chief sports writer, further alleges that Frost’s formal complaint was the culmination of a long series of incidents involving Dunne, dating back to her early days as an amateur rider.

According to Frost, this included obscene verbal abuse and a threat that “if you ever fucking murder [cut across] me like that again, I’ll murder you”, after a race in July last year when Dunne had also been riding Cillian’s Well. After the race on 3 September, meanwhile, she told the investigation that Dunne approached her an hour later and said: “The next time I ride against you, I promise I will put you through a wing [for a fence].”

Robbie Dunne in action earlier this year. Photograph: Tim Goode/PA © Provided by The Guardian Robbie Dunne in action earlier this year. Photograph: Tim Goode/PA

Shortly afterwards, Frost says, Dunne confirmed the threat, saying : “My problem is you fucking murder everyone and I promise you the next time we ride against each other, I am going to hurt you.”

Dunne, according to Walsh, was interviewed by Watts on 2 December 2020. When asked about the alleged threat, he reportedly replied: “Well, it was like, ‘I’ll put you through a wing and you’ll probably get [hurt]’, not that ‘you’ll get hurt’ but ‘If you get hurt, it’s the only way you’re gonna learn cos you’re repeatedly doing this, not that ‘I’m going to hurt you’.”

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The BHA officials investigating Frost’s complaint against Dunne also interviewed many of their fellow jockeys and weighing room staff. Their report includes a conclusion that “there is a cultural issue in which threatening behaviour is condoned and not reported in the weighing room. It is likely that this is why it has been difficult for the BHA to gather detailed witness evidence from occupants of the weighing room.”

In a statement on Sunday afternoon, Daryl Cowan, Dunne’s solicitor, said that the leak suggested that the BHA had “completely lost control” of the investigation, and that the authority had conceded the leak could have originated from its own integrity department.

“In the light of the Sunday Times article and the serious damage this will cause my client in terms of his reputation, not to mention the prejudice that it will cause the process, it has become essential for me to make a statement on his behalf,” Cowan said.

“The BHA has completely lost control of this case. Under the BHA’s much-vaunted Judicial Panels’ Code, the case papers relevant to an investigation are, or are supposed to be, strictly confidential. We have known for some time of a leak to another national newspaper, and Mr Dunne and his family have already suffered from persistent approaches by that particular news outlet, including being door-stepped at his home.

“The piece in the Sunday Times confirms that, as suspected, all or the majority of the case papers have now been leaked into the public domain. Trial by media is always unfair, and a fair trial before a Panel after trial by media is impossible. The BHA has admitted to us that the original leak may have come from within its own Integrity Department, and that it has notified the Information Commissioner.”

Cowan’s statement also suggests that “the BHA has point-blank refused to give us any details whatsoever [about the leak]”, and that the regulator “has adopted a self-serving siege mentality, with a callous disregard of the welfare of my client and his family.”

Frost followed her King George win on Frodon by revealing her weighing room difficulties. Photograph: Hugh Routledge/Shutterstock © Provided by The Guardian Frost followed her King George win on Frodon by revealing her weighing room difficulties. Photograph: Hugh Routledge/Shutterstock

The Cowan statement continues: “The data breach has come on the back of an investigation that has been irredeemably compromised by conflicts of interest and partisanships. Pretty much every rule of professional and neutral evidence gathering has been broken, including the misrepresentation and selective editing of witness testimony.

“To cap it all, we are told that Chris Watts, the investigator, will not now be available to be cross-examined on his investigation. The BHA has acted with complete indifference to the impact of its process failures on my client and his family.

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“It has acted in a manner which is high-handed and oppressive. Its so-called Integrity Department has shown itself to be unfit for purpose. I will not comment on the specific issues within the case, but will say that much the biggest scandal for racing here has been the utterly inept and flawed investigation carried out.”

The BHA said in an earlier statement on Sunday: “The Sunday Times article refers to leaked documents which are related to an ongoing investigation. In the interests of procedural fairness the BHA does not comment on the details of ongoing investigations.

“This case is close to reaching its conclusion, with directions hearings scheduled for the near future. It is an important case and one that the BHA is taking very seriously. Cases such as this may be complex and involve significant legal representation. In order to ensure fairness for all parties such procedures - including the directions hearings - must be allowed to play out in full, and in private rather than through the media.

“However, as is usual process, and in the interests of openness and transparency, the BHA would make public the details of any cases which are heard in front of its independent Disciplinary Panel, prior to any hearing taking place.”


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