Rust apologises for error of judgement

British Horseracing Authority chief executive Nick Rust on Thursday apologised for what he called "an error of judgement" in using solicitor Matthew Lohn in its disciplinary panels, among them the Jim Best case that led to a rehearing.

Nick Rust, BHA chief executive.

Lewes-based trainer Best was last week suspended for six months following a rehearing into the running and riding of two horses in December last year.

He was handed the ban by an independent disciplinary panel after it ruled Best had instructed conditional jockey Paul John to ride Echo Brava and Missile Man other than on their merits, and that they were "stopping rides".

Best, who denied all of the charges, was originally found in breach at a hearing in February, leading to a four-year disqualification.

But it emerged that Lohn, the chairman of the disciplinary panel at that hearing and several others, was engaged by the BHA on other matters, giving rise to claims of an appearance of bias in favour of the governing body.

At Best's appeal in May, the guilty verdict and penalty were quashed and a rehearing ordered, with the BHA having conceded that while there was "no suggestion of any actual bias" in the case, the non-disclosure of Lohn's other work "created an appearance of bias". The appeal board also said the disciplinary panel's reasons for its findings "were clearly insufficient to support its decision in this case".

Rust said on Thursday: "We apologise for the Matthew Lohn incident. He was given work on a discrete matter in 2013 onwards.

"I made a commitment to do that once the Best case was out of the way. It will be there for all to see in chronological order.

"We made an error of judgement. We made a mistake and have apologised for it.

"I am doing what I can to make sure not only that the system is reasonable and fair but that we clear up all the cases from the Lohn issue."

In releasing a chronological timetable of events, the BHA said Lohn was known to them "as a qualified doctor and lawyer with experience in dealing with issues of medical performance, racing regulation and discipline, and of acting for the General Medical Council".

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He was contacted in October 2013 by then BHA director of integrity, legal and risk Adam Brickell "to provide urgent, informal advice on a non-disciplinary panel matter relating to the referral of racecourse doctors to the General Medical Council (GMC) which had potentially put the Cheltenham race meetings scheduled for 18 and 19 October 2013 at risk".

Although Brickell and Lohn spoke on a number of occasions between October 2013 and January 2014, the BHA said that during this period Lohn "did not seek payment for his advice".

He was, however, later paid £18,366 by the BHA for work carried out between January 2014 and July 2014, having been asked by Brickell – on behalf of Independent Regulatory Board director Ben Gunn, who had undertaken a review into the circumstances of referrals – "to provide written advice regarding the referral of the doctors to the GMC".

The BHA said that in September 2014 "Brickell and Dr Jerry Hill, newly-appointed chief medical adviser, agreed it would be helpful for Dr Hill to meet with Lohn so that he could explain the advice he had given and provide views on a proposed redraft of the BHA's General Instructions to racecourses that dealt with medical provision".

"Lohn subsequently provided advice to Dr Hill on the structure and content of the new draft of the General Instructions as well as advice on a discrete issue relating to medical confidentiality. The BHA paid £35,920.80 for work carried out on these matters between October 2014 and October 2015."

The Professional Jockeys Association sent a letter to the BHA in February 2015 raising a number of issues regarding the composition and operation of the disciplinary panel, including a concern about a potential perception of bias.

Rust conceded in a statement: "While it is incumbent on all panel members to declare 'any interest' when provisionally selected for a disciplinary panel, in hindsight the BHA should have disclosed the fact that it paid Mr Lohn to give advice on issues unrelated to his role as a member of the disciplinary panel.

"We've made good progress in resolving cases affected by a possible appearance of bias. With the disciplinary panel's recent decision to find Paul Gilligan in breach we now have just three of the nine cases left to resolve.

"We have learned important lessons and my priority now is to complete the implementation of the recommendations from this year's Christopher Quinlan QC and Integrity reviews to ensure that racing and its participants can have confidence in our handling of disciplinary cases, now and in the future."

Regarding the six-month penalty, Rust told At The Races: "Speaking personally, we would have liked to have seen a tougher sentence coming down for this.

"We read very carefully what the panel has had to say and we note their comments with regards to guidelines.

"Within the penalty guidelines there was the scope to hand down a longer sentence, but we can't be held to account both ways.

"We've been asked to put in place an independent judiciary system. A panel is put in place that is of unquestionable independence and it has made its decision taking in the factors concerned.

"It is not our job to prosecute and to be the judges. Those two things have to be kept separately.

"This gives me a mandate now to make sure the toughest penalties can be put in place within our sport, and I don't expect any push-back from any representatives with regards from the most serious cases.

"We will be taking very seriously what this panel says and looking at our penalty structure as a result."

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