Racing: Revoked permit fails to stop on-course bookie

Click to follow
The Independent Online
A BOOKMAKER whose betting permit was revoked almost two years ago has been laying bets on the rails ever since, and is expected to be doing so again at the Cheltenham Festival next week.

Slough Crown Court decided on 3 April 1996 that John Henwood, 49, was not "a fit and proper person" to hold a betting permit, but he has continued to trade on British tracks using a permit issued by Ealing magistrates court to a company of which he is sole director. It is a situation of which the National Association of Bookmakers (NAB) and the Racecourse Association (RCA) are fully aware and which appears acceptable under their rules.

Henwood's permit was originally revoked in early 1996 by Slough Magistrates Court, as the result of a complaint by Customs & Excise over the non-payment of betting duty. His subsequent appeal to the Crown Court against their decision was refused on 3 April 1996.

Nine days later, on 12 April, he was appointed as one of two directors of the Victoria Blower Company Ltd. The other director resigned his position on 16 March 1997, since when Henwood has been the sole director. VBC Ltd has held a betting permit, issued by Ealing magistrates, since 1993, the annual renewal of which is usually little more than a legal formality. Henwood was listed as a director of VBC in its latest renewal application to the Ealing bench, and it is under this permit that he has continued to operate as an on-course bookmaker.

The administration of bookies' pitches on racecourses is the responsibility of the National Association of Bookmakers, although this system is currently under review. Both the NAB and the Racecourse Association were aware of the court's decision, and the NAB's rule book states that "if a bookmaker or his permitted company ceases for any reason to be the holder of a bookmaker's permit he shall automatically forfeit all his pitches".

However, a meeting of the National Pitch Appeals Committee, at which both the NAB and RCA were represented, agreed that Henwood should be allowed to continue to work at his racecourse pitches under the Victoria Blower Company's permit. The RCA representative at the meeting was Stanley Jackson, who was at the time the managing director of the organisation.

Henwood said yesterday: "My trading arrangements are in complete compliance with NAB rules and both my own and the Victoria Blower's trading arrangements have been examined and given a clean bill of health by the NAB, the RCA, Jockey Club Security and Customs & Excise."

A spokeswoman for the RCA said that no one at the association was prepared to comment on Henwood's position.

A spokeswoman for Customs & Excise said: "We can confirm that John Henwood had his permit revoked on 3 April, 1996, and that the Victoria Blower Company has had a licence since 1993. We cannot comment on any specific details because of confidentiality but we can confirm that any outstanding matters between John Henwood and Customs & Excise have been resolved."

John Maxse, the Jockey Club's spokesman, said that "it is not up to the Jockey Club to permit a bookmaker and we're not in a position to comment on whether he should or should not be permitted."

Norman Miller, chairman of the NAB, admitted yesterday that it was "not an easy case". He said that the Appeals Committee "was in the situation of do we take this man's livelihood away, or do we not. At the end of the day, it was a matter of judgement. We did not have any complaints from punters, and at the end of the day we have given him the benefit of the doubt. We do not think there is any danger to the public, and had we thought that there was, we would have taken his pitches away from him."

Not all bookmakers agreed with the decision, however. "We've got the Cheltenham Festival coming up and I think it's very dangerous for anyone with a questionable situation to be let loose in that ring," one said yesterday. "I don't want to see anyone put out of business, but the Crown Court didn't feel that he should be in business, so why should an appeals arrangement within a trade association think that they are more knowledgeable than the Crown Court?"

Henwood was a major contributor to the ongoing debate on the future of the betting ring. Rails bookmakers are pressing to be allowed to display their prices on boards when a Levy Board committee publishes its proposals for the future administration of the betting ring later this month. If, as some expect, the committee also introduces a system whereby pitches can be bought and sold, rather than allocated on a waiting-list basis, existing rails pitches, in prime locations adjacent to the members' enclosure, would become extremely valuable commodities overnight.

A spokeswoman for Ealing magistrates court said yesterday that the Victoria Blower Company has yet to submit an application for renewal of its betting permit. The deadline for doing so is today, but the permit does not expire for another month, and Henwood is expected to be calling the odds from his pitch at Cheltenham throughout next week's three-day Festival.