Jockey Robbie Dunne has been given an 18-month ban, with three months suspended, after being found in breach on all four counts of conduct prejudicial to horseracing after the disciplinary panel of the British Horseracing Authority ruled he had bullied and harassed fellow rider Bryony Frost.
Dunne was charged with seven breaches in total, four of conduct prejudicial to horseracing and three of violent and threatening behaviour, with all but one of those charges denied. The 36-year-old, who was not given a financial penalty, was told there were “a combination of factors” which meant his punishment was above the entry point.
An independent three-person panel, chaired by Brian Barker QC, found the four prejudicial conduct breaches to have been proven, while the latter three are yet to be considered.
The majority of the incidents in question took place in 2020, when Dunne was found by the panel to have threatened Frost by promising to “put her through a wing (of a fence)” and he was also accused of using misogynistic language such as “f****** whore”, “f****** slut” and “dangerous c***” towards her.
Barker said: “Our conclusion on the whole of the evidence is that a course of deliberate conduct over a significant period of time has been revealed.
“This has progressed from distasteful targeting to deliberate harassment on and off the course and onwards to occasional cases of dangerous bullying.
“We find that the words used on September 3 were, as a promise, to cause real harm - over and above the usual jockey mantra of ‘murdering’.
“On the examination of Ms Frost’s evidence and demeanour we find her to be truthful, thoughtful and compelling.
“By taking her complaint to the authority she has broken the code (of the weighing room), knowing that her isolation - and rejection by some - was inevitable.”
He went on: “In acknowledging after the Southwell race Mr Dunne believed that Ms Frost was the cause of his mount’s death and that he had suffered a fall, we are unable to accept Mr Dunne’s sweep of denials, criticisms and his reasons.
“A man who in the view of one of his own witnesses was “a p*** taker” and who regarded himself as one of the elders of the weighing room and someone who expected his view to be heeded.
“Behind the four elements set out in rule (J) 19 we find those proved.
“I’d like to make two further observations. The type of excessive language used towards Ms Frost was totally unacceptable, whatever the frustrations about her style and whatever the habits of the weighing room.
“Secondly, in reviewing the evidence given and their approach, by jockeys of repute, as well as by the valets - who probably find themselves in a difficult position - we have a real concern that what was referred to by Mr Weston as ‘the weighing-room culture’ is deep-rooted and coercive and that in itself is not conducive to the development of modern-day race-riding.”
Barker added: “In our view she (Frost) has supported (her case) in a number of areas. The first is the published comments on the Virtual Grand National, the second is the apology at Bangor, the third is the video of the encounter in the pull-up area at Stratford combined with the independent evidence of the fence attendant.
“Also the acceptance of at least some offensive behaviour at Southwell which was followed by Ms Frost’s report to the BHA, and the evidence of Ms (Hannah) Welch (former amateur jockey), which we also found persuasive in admissible support.”
Addressing the leaked BHA report into the allegations and the suggestion that this may have prejudiced the hearing, Barker said: “It is an unfortunate fact that the preliminary process has been overshadowed by extraordinary and unprecedented leaks, either one leak or two leaks, of confidential information.
“In relation to that, the independent enquiry continues. The fact of that leak has led to both distress and unhelpful speculation.
“Fortunately in recent days most of those subsidiary matters have fallen away and as a result we now view that there has been a thorough public investigation and dissection of the core areas, which, looked at in totality, will be of great concern to many who love, support and enjoy the sport.”
In regards to the penalty imposed, which is effective immediately, with Dunne having seven days in which to lodge an appeal, Barker said: “We have taken our time to consider submissions that have been made, both from the BHA and from Mr Dunne. We will say this - professional athletes should behave in a professional way and I am afraid you haven’t.
“This was a deliberate targeting of a colleague whose vulnerabilities you exploited. Whatever your view of her style this was not the way to deal with it. Your behaviour was not appropriate in any sport.
“We have to consider both aggravating features and mitigating features. I view the aggravating features are that this was a deliberate course of conduct, in public, over a fairly long period, which had its desired effect.
“Your behaviour and language would not be tolerated in any other walk of life or workplace. Additionally, in the course of this hearing you have adopted an aggressive attack on her (Frost’s) personality in order to justify your actions. There has been little sign of understanding.
“Mitigation we have considered carefully, but we can’t, I’m afraid, give any credit to the limited plea that was made. We considered the leak, the leak would have had a negative impact on you and it was most unfortunate from every point of view. But nevertheless, the negative impact applied to everybody involved.
“We note that you were following a culture that seems to be approved of by your peers and we are particularly conscious that your livelihood will be significantly affected. We have taken particular notice to the medical report, we do understand your suffering at the loss of your best friend (Liam Treadwell).
“You meant to instil fear and humiliation and you succeeded. Your actions were not appropriate in an equal-terms sport, nor did they meet the expectations of acceptable behaviour.”
He added: “There are a combination of factors, in our view, that take this substantially above the entry point. We agree the appropriate approach is to give concurrent sentences, our view is overall that the appropriate sentence is one of 18 months suspension of licence. We did not consider a financial penalty to be appropriate.
“Taking into account a number of matters urged upon us, we do consider it is just to suspend three months of that term. You will understand the effect of this and the suspension will take place in the usual way.”
Giving her reaction, Frost - who rode a winner at Warwick at almost the same time the verdict was announced - said in a statement she would “take a few days” for reflection before commenting further.
“I would like to thank every individual including the racing public that has supported me not only during the last couple of weeks but throughout,” she said.
“I wish now to take a few days to reflect on the outcome before I make any further comment. I ask the media to please give me and the people closest to me a few days of privacy. I need to focus on my upcoming rides over the weekend. Thank you.”
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