‘He’s ungovernable’: trainer who bullied his peer and lifted young employee’s top stripped of licence

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  • A racehorse trainer who conducted a “campaign of humiliation and harassment” of a fellow trainer – and who made inappropriate comments to a young female staff member – has been stripped of his licence.

    The British Horseracing Authority (BHA) licensing committee has ruled that Milton Harris was “not a fit and proper person to hold a licence”; his “behaviour over a prolonged period of time fell a long way short of what we expect of a licensed person and, as the committee found, would cause damage to racing’s reputation if allowed to continue without repercussion”.

    The BHA has published a lengthy report on the background to, and matters raised at, a hearing that took place from 15 to 18 January.

    The report covers a long-running dispute with Simon Earle, Harris’s neighbouring tenant and fellow trainer, referred to as SE in the report, as Harris is referred to as MH. There were disagreements over field space and use of shared gallops, then in July 2020, Harris hosted an event at his yard.

    “He alleges that SE had called the BHA to query whether it was permitted under Covid rules,” the panel’s report states. “Certainly, we find that MH believed at the relevant time that SE had reported him to the authorities. We find that he was angry and embarrassed by the event being interrupted and in hot temper. What happened next was covertly recorded by SE. MH approached SE and, saying that SE needed to pay him for the gallops, continued: ‘So, I don’t mind if you tell me to fuck off (SE had said no such thing). I’d be – if you man up to me, I’d be more comfortable, instead of just fucking wishy-washy. If I’m finished with you, I’ll fucking hit you. I’m finished with you.”

    The panel listened to the recording, and found that in it, Harris was “very aggressive”.

    “He shouts at SE and directs a torrent of invective, belittling and emasculating him,” the report states. “The insults and abuse were focused on SE needing to ‘stand up and be counted’ and to ‘man up to [MH]’. We find that the threat of physical violence was seriously expressed and would have caused a reasonable person to fear for their safety. It did cause SE to fear for his safety.”

    That October, there was another incident, recorded by Mr Earle, in which Harris threatened to block off the stable at Mr Earle’s yard, the report states.

    “MH sought to minimise this threat in his evidence before us, claiming that it would have been very difficult to carry out in practice (and implying therefore that SE was being over-sensitive). We reject that explanation.

    “Again, MH was belittling, and his threats were designed deliberately to have greatest impact on SE, because it would have the effect of cutting him off from operating his own yard.”

    Shouting abuse

    There was another incident of Harris “shouting abuse” at Mr Earle, after which the BHA sent a written warning to Harris about his conduct to his fellow trainer. But in June 2022, two more incidents were recorded, described in the report as “yet another example of MH humiliating, abusing, insulting, demeaning, and belittling SE”, and “a volley of abuse”.

    “Finally, it should be noted that the course of bullying conduct has continued until very recently,” the report states. “An incident took place in November 2023 – after MH had been warned off from contacting witnesses by reason of additional conditions on his licence – when he deliberately drove his car up to SE at his yard. We find that this was done with the intention of causing SE to be intimidated. It was followed up with a ‘wanker’ gesture.

    “What is clear to the panel is that the bullying and harassment campaign which MH was orchestrating left SE with few good options in seeking to manage the behaviour of MH or those who felt encouraged or permitted to act the same way by him… It is apparent to us that MH has had a significant adverse impact on SE’s psychological wellbeing, which ought to have been entirely foreseeable to him. We find that MH did not care whether he caused SE harm. On any view the conduct of MH was not a proportionate or justifiable response to the difficulty he was facing with his fellow trainer and neighbour.

    “Moreover, the course of conduct has continued because we find that MH has sought to influence others to give false evidence to support him and to continue to seek to portray SE as unreasonable or in the wrong.”

    The report then deals with a girl who was aged between 14 and 16 when she worked for Harris, staying in a hostel on his yard.

    The panel considered a large number of WhatsApp messages between Harris and the staff member, referred to as SJO, whom he had given the name “Lovely Young Girl”, so “all his messages to her would show by that name”, the report states.

    It adds: “He told us that this was simply his first impression of SJO, and it was entirely innocent – he thought that she was ‘a lovely person’ in the platonic sense of her personality. We find this hard to believe given his willingness to enter conversation with sexual connotations with SJO elsewhere in the messages and his tendency to drive the conversation back towards adult topics.”

    The report states that Harris messaged SJO at “odd times”, including when she was at school, and that these messages often had “little or nothing to do with work”. It says Harris was “often keen to make personal offers or favours to SJO, such as supper at his house and for SJO to shower at the yard, even when SJO makes it clear that she does not need it because she has other arrangements”.

    “MH explained that he saw SJO as needing parental-type support and these offers were meant in a kindly way. It is true that there are occasions when MH does show appropriate concern for SJO, especially given her home situation, but we consider that overall, on an objective basis, the WhatsApp’s demonstrate an expression of power and control by MH over SJO”.

    The report says Harris showed a “lack of appropriate boundaries”, made “‘jokes’ that contain sexual innuendoes”

    “We should like to make it plain that we do not think that MH’s conduct with SJO was done for reasons of sexual gratification,” the report states. “However, it was nevertheless inappropriate, because, aside from her age, SJO, as MH well knew, had additional vulnerabilities, such as her home situation and MH, whether consciously or otherwise, was utilising this to create a situation where SJO was more dependent upon and beholden to MH. It all had potential to isolate her and expose her to MH’s control.

    “In his evidence, MH was taken to some of the passages we have referred to. He maintained that there was nothing inappropriate about the WhatsApp messages or the relationship he was cultivating with SJO more generally. Indeed, he chuckled at some of the ‘banter’ when he re-read the messages. It is clear to us that he does not recognise any problem with the way he behaved towards SJO. We had the impression that if it happened again tomorrow, he would behave in the same way.”

    “In addition, we find that he did lift SJO’s top and make a comment about her weight,” the report states. “Again, whilst there was no suggestion that this was done for sexual gratification, it was directly related to SJO’s weight, which he knew would have a direct psychological impact on her because they were both aware that she would need to lose some weight to be a professional jockey and that she would need to work hard to achieve that goal.

    “We find that this was MH using shame and humiliation as tools to control SJO and we find this was bullying because it had the effect of humiliating her.”

    Inappropriate comments

    The panel heard from another witness, who was 12 or 13 when she worked for Harris at weekends and school holidays, and who said he made “inappropriate comments” and made her uncomfortable.

    Harris’s “case was presented on the basis that significant changes have taken place with respect to the management of safeguarding issues”, the report states, including a safeguarding policy and action plan. But the panel had concerns about the people named as leading the policy, and “we do not consider that it is likely to change the culture of the yard in practice”.

    The panel considered “many character references, several of which were from individuals of considerable personal standing who have known MH over many years and who wrote in glowing terms”.

    “We would like it to be understood that we have a full picture of MH in mind,” the report states. “There are many ways in which he has shown positive character traits. Several of the witnesses commented that they saw a paternal element to his relationships with young persons and felt that he had good intentions to allow youngsters with ambitions to participate in racing to fulfil their potential and live their dreams. We have also seen evidence of opportunities which he has given young people, including his extensive charity work, and in arranging for mentoring and work experience with other industry figures, including senior jockeys and highly regarded trainers. Many of the witnesses owe a great deal to MH, having been given opportunities as youngsters when other yards had turned them down.”

    The panel found Harris’s actions had cause “considerable harm” to Mr Earle and his wife, and harm to the two young people mentioned. It found Harris had breached conditions of his licence relating to financial matters, and that “we consider that MH is ungovernable, or at least in the regulatory context, not capable of being regulated”.

    After the decision, BHA director of integrity and regulatory operations Tim Naylor said: “Some of the details in the licensing committee’s decision make for extremely uncomfortable reading. Mr Harris’s behaviour over a prolonged period of time fell a long way short of what we expect of a licensed person and, as the committee found, would cause damage to racing’s reputation if allowed to continue without repercussion. We are, therefore, pleased with the panel’s finding that Mr Harris is not a fit and proper person to hold a licence.”

    It is understood that Harris was “disappointed” by the decision, and that he will issue a statement.

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