BHA argued against revealing ‘relevant’ email in Jim Best case
British Horseracing Authority BHA argued against revealing ‘relevant’ email in Jim Best case
Regulator told rider’s solicitor it would not seek to disqualify him
Issue of disclosure to be addressed in forthcoming Quinlan review
Details have emerged of arguments made by the British Horseracing Authority against disclosing a document that has since been judged to be relevant in the case it is pursuing against the Lewes trainer Jim Best. Racing’s ruling body repeatedly refused to share with Best’s lawyers a record of communications between the BHA and its sole prosecution witness, the jockey Paul John, who was accused alongside Best in a matter relating to two horses that were allegedly stopped.
The BHA denies that any deal was made with John in advance of the initial hearing in March. At the appeal hearing in the case, however, Best’s QC, Jonathan Laidlaw, argued that consideration should be given to an email dated 31 January from the BHA to John’s solicitor, Rory Mac Neice. The email, which alludes to a recent telephone conversation on the subject, shows the BHA writing to confirm what it will seek in the way of punishment for John if his evidence at the hearing is as Mac Neice indicates. On the basis that John will say he stopped the two horses on the instructions of Best, the BHA says it will not ask for John to be disqualified from the sport. The BHA position is understood to be that the email does not amount to a deal or evidence of same.
Best denies the charges. On his behalf Laidlaw began the March hearing by asking the disciplinary panel to order disclosure of communications between the BHA and John that he argued were “plainly relevant” to the question of motivation for John giving evidence against Best. The BHA had refused to disclose that material before the hearing and did so again at the hearing.
According to the BHA transcript, the regulator’s position was: “There is nothing relevant to credibility in there whatsoever … No assurance or promise has been made to Mr John as to how he might be dealt with”.
The panel chairman, Matthew Lohn, nevertheless ordered that the material was “potentially capable of being relevant” and ordered the BHA to disclose it to Best’s lawyers. However Lohn made no reference, in the reasons for his eventual decision to ban Best for four years, to the January email or the arguments on that subject presented by Best’s side.
Related: Jim Best conviction to be quashed following BHA climbdown
That was a point noted by Anthony Boswood QC in his appeal verdict, when he quashed the verdict against Best, the insufficiency of Lohn’s reasons being one of the reasons for that outcome, along with concerns over a perception of bias relating to the panel chairman, who had carried out some private work for the BHA. Boswood wrote: “Surprisingly the panel does not refer in its reasons to the arrangements made between [the BHA] and Mr Mac Neice which led to Mr John’s giving evidence against Mr Best, although these were clearly of potential relevance on the issue of Mr John’s credibility.”
The BHA’s approach to disclosure is one of many topics due to be addressed in the Quinlan review of disciplinary procedures, to be published on 30 September. Best’s lawyers argue the rehearing in his case should not take place until after that review but BHA officials maintain it is appropriate to stick to the scheduled rehearing date in mid-September. Best’s lawyers have also said they are “deeply troubled” by the BHA’s handling of disclosure issues.
Pressed on the subject of disclosure, a BHA spokesman confined himself to saying: “The case regarding Jim Best remains ongoing, with a rehearing to be scheduled in due course. It would not be appropriate to comment on these matters while the proceedings remain ongoing. It is usual BHA policy not to comment regarding ongoing investigations or disciplinary cases.”
The BHA email of 31 January to Mac Neice states: “I am emailing to confirm the position that the BHA intends to adopt as regards the appropriate penalty for Paul John on the basis that (1) he is intending to plead guilty to the 2 alleged breaches of Rule (B)59.2, and (2) his evidence as to why he rode the horses as he did at Plumpton and Towcester will be as you have previously indicated i.e. because Mr Best had instructed him to ride the horses other than on their merits.
“On that basis the BHA would not [‘not’ was underlined in the email] be suggesting to the panel that disqualification would be an appropriate penalty for Mr John. The BHA’s position would be (1) that the breaches should be categorised under d), e) or f) in the Guide to Procedures and Penalties (2) that in the ordinary course of events the appropriate penalty would be a suspension of a jockey’s licence, but (3) that since Mr John does not currently hold a licence, the appropriate period for any suspension (i.e. whatever suspension the panel would otherwise have been [sic] imposed) should be replaced by a period of the same duration for which the licensing committee should not grant him a licence.”
The BHA’s decision to categorise John’s breach “under d), e) or f)” is highly significant, since the entry point punishment for such offences is a 42-day suspension. If the BHA wished to argue there had been some reward to the jockey for his rule-breaking, it would be alleging a breach under category a), for which the entry point is an eight-year ban.
Charlotte Kerton, a jockey found to have stopped two horses, was told by the BHA in 2012 that she would be prevented from applying for a jockey’s licence for six years. In her case, the panel, chaired by Lohn, ruled she had stopped horses for reward, the reward being the prospect of more rides from the trainer involved. It made that finding even though there was no direct evidence of such rides being promised.
In the case involving John and Best, the BHA does not argue that there was any reward for John’s actions, not even the prospect of more rides. As a consequence, his suspension was for six months, backdated to the time he left Best’s yard, so that he was able to reapply for a licence less than three months after the panel’s reasons were published. He has recently been granted a licence to ride as an amateur jockey, stating that he wishes to recover the sport’s trust before trying to be a professional once more.
During the March hearing, Lohn asked on behalf of the panel if the BHA wished to argue there was an aspect of reward in the fact that Best booked John to ride for him at Lingfield just days after the alleged stopping rides. The BHA response was that it did not wish to make that argument.
Asked about the difference between the BHA’s handling of the two cases, a BHA spokesman said the cases were decided independently of the regulator by disciplinary panels for reasons that were published at the time.