Racing: Champion jockey wins libel case

KIEREN FALLON, the champion Flat jockey, the trainer Lynda Ramsden and her husband Jack yesterday won their 19-day libel action against The Sporting Life over an article that accused them of "cheating".

A jury at the High Court in London awarded damages of pounds 70,000 to Fallon, pounds 75,000 to Lynda Ramsden and pounds 50,000 to Jack Ramsden. With costs, the bill for The Sporting Life is expected to reach pounds 700,000.

The plaintiffs had sued over an article in The Life on 11 May 1995, the day after Top Cees, trained by Lynda Ramsden and ridden by Fallon, had won the Chester Cup by five lengths. In a comment column under the headline "Contempt For The Punter" written by Alastair Down, the newspaper's associate editor, it was alleged that the Ramsdens and Fallon had been "cheating" when the same horse finished fifth at Newmarket three weeks earlier.

Yesterday, the jury decided unanimously that the words complained of were neither substantially true nor fair comment in the case of Mrs Ramsden. They returned the same verdict in respect of both Mr Ramsden and Fallon, though by a majority verdict of 10 to two. They were unanimous, however, that the accusation had been published without malice.

Jack Ramsden said afterwards that "When we set out on this mission I felt that I'd be really surprised if anyone ever came to a court of law and said Lynda was a liar and a cheat. We've been proved right because she was the only one who got the 12-0 verdict on all counts."

The most dramatic moment in the trial was the evidence given by Derek Thompson, the Channel 4 racing presenter. He told the court that during a conversation in a pub Fallon had admitted "pulling" Top Cees at Newmarket. Fallon described Thompson's story as a "lie" when he returned to the stand.

Jack Ramsden said: "What he did to come in at the 11th hour like that and tell that story was utterly contemptible. Every jockey may feel extremely doubtful about talking to Mr Thompson and I endorse that."

Thompson, working for Channel 4 yesterday, said: "I was very disappointed with the judge's summing up when he said to the jury that they should exercise caution with my testimony. I feel I have been made a scapegoat but I had a lot of calls from top owners, trainers and jockeys offering support and I am very thankful to them."

Jack Ramsden added: "The suggestion has always been that we are cocking a snook at the Jockey Club and I feel that in this case we've been on the same side. They might not like to think of us as bed partners but I felt we were on the same side."

Punters, he said, "can follow our horses in the safe knowledge that they are trying."

Lynda Ramsden said that she had been "horrified to think that some people think we are liars and cheats".

Fallon was not in court for the verdict but was informed of the decision at Lingfield where he was due to ride shortly afterwards. Master Caster, an even-money favourite, provided him with his second win in the space of 15 minutes.

Tom Clarke, the editor of The Sporting Life, said that the newspaper was "bitterly disappointed" by the result. "The case was fought on a matter of principle by The Sporting Life in its capacity as a guardian of the punters' interests. We think it is a sad day for racing but do not regret defending this action for one moment."

A statement by the Jockey Club said: "There are issues which have been raised which need to be considered. The stewards will discuss what has emerged over the last three weeks and decide what action, if any, should be taken in the best interests of racing."

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