Case to answer as Turf rulers attempt to avoid taking blame for trial fiasco
The prosecution of one of the great riders in history, on charges of corruption, raised the stakes to desperate levels for racing. The outside world was engrossed. Whatever the outcome, the case guaranteed an imperishable infamy. Someone, somehow, would be shown to have betrayed the Turf's good name.
If the three jockeys charged had indeed been guilty of stopping horses for gain, the perfidy could scarcely be more obvious. But if Kieren Fallon and the sport he personifies had been clumsily exposed to calumny and misapprehension for no good reason, then that, too, would be a scandal in its own right.
If the outcome of the trial was predictable to anyone with a rudimentary grasp of the issues regrettably, a minority that could at no stage be said to include the police then so too was the reaction of the sport's regulators yesterday.
The British Horseracing Authority, the latest incarnation of the Jockey Club, immediately sought to dissociate itself from the fiasco. "Once we handed the file over to the police, this was their investigation," said its spokesman, Paul Struthers.
The BHA will now examine the case to establish whether its own rules have been breached. Nobody, surely, will be idiotic enough to dig a deeper hole with Fallon, whose 15-month banishment pending trial amply redresses such minor indiscretions as have been disclosed. But Fergal Lynch will have to explain his relationship with Rodgers, at the time a disqualified person.
Regardless, those who initiated the ordeal cannot absolve themselves simply by distancing themselves from the ham-fisted way the investigation was handled albeit the fatuous misjudgements of the police were as predictable as their extent was shocking. The fact is that the Jockey Club should never have lit the tinderbox in the first place.
During the trial, its agenda became nakedly apparent. In late 2003 a new head of security, Paul Scotney, had arrived brandishing a new broom. And, as an experienced policeman, he wanted to use it. Nobody could mistake the change of culture, and few could conscionably cavil with it.
The trouble was that Scotney and presumably those who brought him in craved the glory of a police prosecution. The Jockey Club plainly felt that such a shock to the racing community, defensive and traditional as it was, would draw an indelible line in the sand.
Having recently ended a 27-year police career, Scotney had been behind his desk for no more than weeks when he passed on a file to the fraud department of the City of London Police. The jury was told that the Jockey Club had tried to interest other authorities in attempting a prosecution. Its quest ended after a meal between the then Commissioner of City of London Police and two retired senior officers: Scotney and the man responsible for hiring him, Ben Gunn. What persuaded the Commissioner to embrace a cause that could find no other suitor, no one can say.
During the case, it was repeatedly suggested that the Jockey Club had offered to contribute 250,000 towards the cost of the investigation. "At no point was any funding promised, agreed or any payment made in connection with these proceedings," Struthers said yesterday. "We were formally asked, but turned down that request as we did not believe it appropriate."
Whatever the role of Gunn, former chief constable of Cambridgeshire, it is impossible to resist casting Scotney as the pantomime villain. He auditioned well, blustering in the witness box. His cross-examination featured one of the most dramatic moments of the trial, when asked if he had boasted of a vendetta against Fallon. It was put to him that he had been overheard by a trainer, Alan Jarvis, declaring "in drink" at a social function that he would "get" Fallon if it was the last thing he did. He claimed to have no recollection of making the remark, even when presented with evidence that the officer leading the investigation, Mark Manning, had told him of Jarvis's complaint.
It is Manning himself, however, who brings Scotney to a nadir. Manning repeatedly protested ignorance about racing and betting, as though this might somehow exculpate him of inane errors. It certainly impressed Scotney, who has offered him a post in the security department on his retirement from the police.
Scotney, too, testified to his lack of specialist knowledge. In other words, the complaint was filed by a man who knew little about this abstruse environment, to men who knew nothing. It beggars belief how the CPS imagined there was any prospect of proving beyond doubt that Fallon had ridden 17 horses with corrupt intentions, without beginning to explain how he managed to win on five of them.
During a pre-trial CPS briefing, journalists were smugly told Fallon's success was inadvertent and had left him in debt to the conspirators. But the prosecution established nothing beyond the fact that Fallon had told friends what he thought of the chances of his mounts. Though two of them were passing these opinions on to Rodgers, there was no evidence that Fallon knew this. Rodgers made a loss of 330,000 on his mounts.
The defence lawyers, unhappy with the objectivity of the Australian "expert" chosen by the prosecution, became more aggrieved when they discovered the police had by accident or, in their furious submission, by design failed to disclose the positive opinions of an expert palpably qualified to pass judgement on British racing: Jim McGrath, of Timeform and Channel 4.
It became clear that the cornerstone of the case was the race that had always been susceptible to misconstruction by the layman the one race, in other words, that demanded the police to be sure of their ground. When Fallon eased Ballinger Ridge in a clear lead at Lingfield in March 2004, and was caught on the line, someone like Manning would never have seen anything like it in his life. From that moment, it seems, nothing could shake police certainty.
In reality, of course, anyone who knew racing would be aware that jockeys often perpetrate this kind of excruciating blunder. In terms of trying to stop a horse, it might be surpassed in impracticality only by dismounting at the gallop and wrestling it to the ground.
Given what was at issue for the defendants, it would only be equitable for those responsible for this debacle to pay with their careers. But their legacy is assured.
Among the broader public, there may be an assumption that there can be no smoke without fire. That temptation, moreover, could now be vindicated among the tiny minority drawn to dishonesty. It would be surprising now if you could find another policeman prepared to make an ass of himself in horseracing.
So well done, chaps. When they embraced this mission, Scotney and those around him seem to have been determined to make a name for themselves. They have most certainly managed that. Nobody who cherishes the sport will forget them or forgive them for a long time to come.
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