Racing: Judge to lead the National inquiry

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A HIGH COURT judge will lead the investigation into the great Grand National debacle, but not because the sport has decided it requires outside help from the judiciary. Sir Michael Connell, who was appointed yesterday to head a three-man team, is a member of the Jockey Club.

The other inquisitors are Stan Mellor, three times champion jump jockey, and Len Cowburn, who recently retired as deputy chairman of the William Hill bookmaking chain. Having defused the threat of legal action from Hills, the Jockey Club are clearly eager to placate the off-course betting industry by allowing it a say in the inquiry.

The first reforms to the starting system were made at Folkestone yesterday, where Pat McCarthy, the recall man, was equipped with a fluorescent orange jacket and a walkie- talkie to connect him to the starter, Judy Grange. 'With such a bright jacket on, the jockeys cannot help but see me. It's a good idea,' McCarthy said, begging the question: if it is such a good idea, why was it not thought of before?

The advent of two-way radios is the most logical attempt to solve the problem of false starts, though yesterday McCarthy was playing down the importance of new technology. 'Though I now have the radio, keeping my eye on the starter's flag is all- important,' he said.

For Keith Brown, the starter at Aintree on Saturday, media scrutiny will be redoubled this afternoon when he returns to his post for the televised meeting at Ascot. The bowler-hatted Brown, a former cavalry officer, has spoken of enduring a 'nightmare' since he was forced to declare the 1993 National void.

Pressure for the race to be restaged continues to survive official declarations that the event is dead and buried. Yesterday the Horserace Betting Levy Board, racing's bank, pointed out that off-course betting turnover on Saturday would have yielded pounds 1m for the sport. However there is virtually no chance of the race being restored, except in the games of the tabloids.

A spokesman for the Lord Chancellor's Department said that Sir Michael was chairing the inquiry as a Jockey Club member, not in his capacity as a High Court judge, and would do so in his spare time rather than at the taxpayers' expense.

Sir Michael, a former amateur rider with over 50 wins in point-to-points and under Rules, has trained his own horses and is a steward at Huntingdon. He said today: 'We will get this inquiry underway as soon as possible, and I hope to reach a conclusion before very long.'

David Pipe of the Jockey Club said: 'The stewards believed the inquiry needed to be headed by someone with a strong legal knowledge.' Whether it should have included someone from outside the racing industry will remain a talking point.

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