Racing: Arresting work of strained relations officer

Andrew Longmore takes a peep into the mysterious world of Jockey Club security
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The Independent Online
IT IS quite understandable that the head of security at the Jockey Club should not want to advertise his face too prominently around his patch. But that well-cultivated anonymity has proved a particular blessing for Roger Buffham in these turbulent days. If the former military intelligence officer was to poke his head into any weighing-room in the country and be recognised, the door would most likely be slammed in his face.

The weighing-room being a pantry of irreverence, humour has been the dominant response to the recent spate of arrests. But there is also lingering anger that, for all the high-profile dawn swoops, the knowing looks and the implication of guilt, no charges have yet been brought against any of those arrested over the past 14 months.

While the Organised Crime Squad, the Jockey Club and the Crown Prosecution Service get their act together, the reputation of racing in general and of jockeys in particular has been dragged through some pretty heavy going.

Buffham has been head of the revamped and upgraded security department at Portman Square, the headquarters of the Jockey Club, since 1991. He is 48, portly, dapper even, with a fastidious mind and a fondness for intrigue and trilby hats. Depending on who you listen to, he is either a cross between Cracker and Sherlock Holmes or racing's Inspector Clouseau, the stout defender or the sole destroyer of the sport's increasingly fragile integrity, Buffham the Vice Slayer or Coco the Clown.

He does, by near common consent, have the most impossible job in racing. The role has led to rising criticism, and Christopher Spence, the Jockey Club senior steward, last week gave his security head a resounding vote of confidence.

"Roger Buffham's job is to protect racing, which is more important than anything else," Spence said. "To that end, he is not very popular. But I back him and support him in everything he has done." A football manager would start looking for another job after such a ringing endorsement.

In one sense, Buffham has made a rod for his own back. The failure to bring anyone to justice for the doping of Bravefoot and Norwich in 1990 highlighted the need for greater co-operation between the forces of the Jockey Club and the police. One of Buffham's priorities when he took over the job in the year after that inquiry was to persuade the CPS to regard the doping of horses as an act of criminal conspiracy. In short, the police and the CPS had to take racing crime seriously. In return, Buffham had to bring the investigative procedures of his own department into line with the law of the land.

"If someone is making a career out of fraud then it is in the interests of integrity that we start to look at him closely. The great problem is to prove a conspiracy. Our staff's procedures now mirror those of the police so that our evidence will not be thrown out in any subsequent inquiry." Those prophetic words were spoken almost exactly six years ago in the days when Buffham did media interviews. He might recall them with a wry grin now.

While Christopher Foster, the Jockey Club's chief executive, trumpeted the "months, indeed years of hard work by our investigative team" after the original trio of arrests, the mood was markedly less gung-ho after the arrests of Graham Bradley, Charlie Brooks and Ray Cochrane on 9 January, almost exactly a year later. "Nothing to do with us, a police matter" was the gist of their acceptance of responsibility.

In the absence as yet of any conclusive evidence against any of those arrested, Buffham's working relationship with the Organised Crime Squad and the CPS is becoming increasingly strained. The difficulty is knowing exactly who is exerting the pressure for prosecution. Is it coming from inside or outside racing?

No one is in any serious doubt that the security department at the Jockey Club is a far more professional operation these days. It is also far more expensive and questions are beginning to surface about the return on the investment. With a team of 30 full-time and 75 part-time staff, Buffham is badly in need of a few notches to put on his belt.

Were he allowed to defend himself, Buffham would doubtless list some of his department's less glamorous work: more sophisticated surveillance of the betting ring, more thorough vetting of security staff, the licensing of training establishments, heightened security at racecourses, closer liaison with the police and the Customs and Excise.

It must be a source of abiding frustration to a man of Buffham's punctiliousness that he cannot follow through his own criminal investigations. He has to pass his information over to the OCS and wait for them to rumble into action. In 1996, the Jockey Club held more than 100 inquiries into possible breaches of its rules, a further 261 inquiries were held into possible non-triers. Five years ago, a security hotline called "Raceguard" was set up to encourage informants. Good, routine work, all of it.

Whether Buffham, who has no background in racing, fully understands the complex mentality of the sport he patrols is a more fundamental question. The jockeys have queried his knowledge of their profession. As one put it: "I don't think he understands the culture of the sport." If a jockey attends a race day and gives a tip to the punters, is that fraud or favour? Is pulling up a horse necessarily an indication of skulduggery? And what place does the good old-fashioned betting coup have in Buffham's brave new world? If no prosecutions follow in the next few months, Buffham's fall will surely match his rise. Without trace.