Fallon acquitted of race-fixing charges as 10m prosecution fails

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The Independent Online

Three and a half years after the arrest of Kieren Fallon shocked the horseracing world, and two months into a trial estimated to have cost 10m, the race-fixing case at the Old Bailey was thrown out yesterday by the judge.

The dramatic denouement to the saga triggered furious criticism of the City of London Police and the Crown Prosecution Service, and also raised uncomfortable questions for the British Horseracing Authority (BHA).

Fallon, who had been banned from British racecourses for 15 months pending his trial, declared himself "relieved and delighted". The six-times champion jockey added: "I have always said, I have never stopped a horse or fixed a race. The court has confirmed what we have always said there was no evidence against me."

One of the most colourful and controversial figures in sport, Fallon may yet seek redress. In the meantime, he intends to sharpen his skills in the United States this winter before resuming his career in Europe next year. The jockey has not ridden since winning the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe on 7 October, the eve of the trial.

In common with the other five defendants, Fallon has protested his innocence ever since his arrest in September 2004. Along with two lesser jockeys, Fergal Lynch and Darren Williams, he was charged nearly two years later with conspiracy to defraud customers of the online betting exchange Betfair in a plot orchestrated by a professional gambler, Miles Rodgers. They were accused of agreeing to stop 27 horses between December 2002 and September 2004.

Fallon rode in 17 of the races under review. But he won five times, with a net loss to Mr Rodgers of 330,000. The prosecution never offered any credible explanation for this, nor any evidence that Fallon was aware that opinions he routinely offered two friends Shaun Lynch and Philip Sherkle, who were also charged were being passed on to Mr Rodgers.

After hearing the prosecution case, Mr Justice Thane Forbes decided that the evidence was too flawed for consideration by a jury. He said the Crown's star witness, an Australian racing official named Ray Murrihy, had fallen "far, far short" of establishing a prima facie case that the jockeys had ridden dishonestly. In the absence of any such proof, all the remaining evidence "was almost entirely consistent with normal social interchange and innocent transmission of racing tips of information".

Mr Justice Forbes had rejected a pre-trial application for no case to answer during the summer, but said Mr Murrihy's "very significant shortcomings and limitations" as an expert witness had only surfaced during cross-examination. Having expressed dissatisfaction with 13 of the races, Mr Murrihy conceded that he lacked expertise in the differences between Australian and British rules and practices.

Giving his ruling, the judge said: "This is an extraordinary admission given that he was purporting to give evidence about races run in the UK according to UK racing rules ... tantamount to Mr Murrihy disqualifying himself in giving evidence in relation to the suspect races." Even if had been admissible, he said, Mr Murrihy's evidence could have "very little value".

Fallon's lawyers immediately demanded two inquiries: one into the CPS decision to prosecute, and another into the police investigation. The Independent Police Complaints Commission will be asked to examine the conduct of the detective leading the investigation, acting Detective Inspector Mark Manning, and testimony he gave under oath.

Although Det Insp Manning acknowledged in evidence that he was ignorant of racing and betting, it emerged that he has been offered a post in the security department of the BHA the very body which, in its previous guise as the Jockey Club, had first filed a complaint with the police in early 2004.

That was only weeks after a former policeman, Paul Scotney, had taken over as head of security. Mr Scotney also admitted to a limited understanding of betting and racing during the trial, and denied allegations that he had boasted of a vendetta against Fallon.

The BHA, which was quick to distance itself from the police investigation, had controversially suspended the licences of the three jockeys when they were charged. A spokesman, Paul Struthers, said yesterday that the BHA had been reasonable and procedurally scrupulous in prohibiting them from riding in Britain. Fallon, who is licensed in Ireland, was able to continue riding overseas.

All three will now be eligible to ride here again, though the BHA will consider whether the case had revealed any breaches of its own rules. "Irrespective of the outcome, this has been a sad episode for horseracing," Mr Struthers said. "The allegation in court that racing and punters were the victims of a conspiracy has been a cloud over the whole sport."

The CPS insisted it had been right to prosecute. One of its lawyers, Asker Husain, said: "This was a serious allegation of fraud with the potential to undermine the integrity of a historic sport enjoyed by millions. Our case was that there was a deliberate conspiracy to the detriment of the betting public. The judge rejected applications to dismiss the case made before the trial started."

Few observers of yesterday's events can have been more interested than Harry Redknapp, the manager of Portsmouth FC. Himself an enthusiastic racing man, Redknapp will note that the same department of the same constabulary fraud officers of the City of London force were responsible for his arrest 10 days ago.