Racing: Fallon to fight ban in High Court 'and beyond'
The stakes were raised anew in the excruciating drama gripping the Turf when Kieren Fallon yesterday lost his appeal against suspension by the Horseracing Regulatory Authority. The former champion jockey immediately vowed to take his case to the High Court, "and beyond if necessary".
Last Friday the HRA told Fallon and two other riders, Fergal Lynch and Darren Williams, that they would not be permitted to ride in Britain pending their trial on a charge of conspiracy to defraud punters. Fallon, who is still able to ride in Ireland, protested to the HRA Appeal Board, which heard submissions from his lawyers deep into Wednesday evening. Having adjourned overnight, it yesterday upheld the original decision.
Fallon believes he should be free to ride until given the opportunity to clear his name - something that will not happen until spring at the earliest. In a statement, Fallon described himself as "deeply disappointed" by the Appeal Board's decision.
"I will now take the matter to the High Court, and beyond if necessary, to reinstate my rights to earn a living in the UK and participate in the sport that I love," he said. "Until I have the chance to prove my innocence in court, it is grossly unfair that I am being denied a living in Britain."
Arrested in September 2004, Fallon was aghast when finally charged by police last week. He was promptly assured by the Turf Club in Ireland that he would be treated as innocent until proven otherwise, but his lucrative retainer for Coolmore Stud means that many of his most important obligations can only be fulfilled in Britain. The initial HRA hearing accepted the likelihood that Fallon's contract would not be renewed if he cannot ride here.
Fallon's lawyers claimed that his suspension was "disproportionate", as it effectively denied him the right to earn a living and would end his career as an élite jockey. They also argued that "the panel erred in law in declining to take into account any evidence and/or submissions on his [Fallon's] behalf in respect of the underlying criminal charges which were the basis for the HRA's decision".
But the Appeal Board issued a statement endorsing the original verdict. "Mindful of the serious criminal charges now outstanding against Kieren Fallon, the Board decided that the decision [not] to consider any of the presently available evidence was correct," it said. "Further, that the decision to prohibit him from riding in Great Britain until the conclusion of his trial or further order was justified."
Fallon must now hope that his lawyers can breach a general judicial reluctance to interfere in the way governing bodies administer sport. Beyond the High Court, they have the option of the European Court of Human Rights, albeit that process might prove so protracted that the court case would nearly be upon them.
The HRA, which inherited its duties from the Jockey Club only in April, seems determined to demonstrate that it will be implacably firm with any hint of alleged corruption. In legal terms, moreover, it would seem prudent to resist considering the evidence of the case.
On the other hand, the HRA has plainly made some kind of judgement already. Its action reflects a very positive assumption about the threshold of evidence prompting the police to charge Fallon. The harsh fact remains that the police have a poor record whenever they have become entangled in racing matters. Two newspapers have this week listed 14 of the 18 Fallon mounts allegedly under investigation. It must be said that the police would have to come up with some fairly extraordinary hidden dimensions to render many of these rides intelligibly suspicious.
By indefinitely banishing one of the greatest jockeys in history, the HRA is taking a dangerous risk. If Fallon manages to clear his name, the sense of scandal over his treatment would surpass any successful prosecutions among the other 10 people also charged.
All protest their innocence. Williams has also launched an appeal against his suspension, while Lynch has until today to follow suit. Both hold British licences and cannot ride until any trial has ended, though they will be compensated for loss of earnings by the British Horseracing Board. No such provision has been made for Fallon, because he is licensed in Ireland. He rode a treble at Naas on Wednesday and had four mounts at Gowran Park last night. Tonight he partners Mountain in the Grand Prix de Paris at Longchamp and, on Sunday, he rides the odds-on favourite, Alexandrova, in the Darley Irish Oaks.
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