Racecourse ban for horsebox driver who drove at traffic stewards

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  • A horsebox driver who drove at traffic stewards in a moment of “road rage” has been banned from racecourses for two months.

    Travelling head lad Nigel Wakefield was sanctioned by British Horseracing Authority’s (BHA) disciplinary panel today (22 April) for two rule breaches. These were in relation to driving a lorry, with two horses on board, into people directing traffic outside Chelmsford City racecourse on 2 September 2017 and for aggressive behaviour and verbal abuse towards staff at Nottingham racecourse on 14 October 2020.

    Mr Wakefield, who had previously pleaded guilty to driving without due care and attention and common assault at Chelmsford Crown Court in relation to the 2017 incident, will serve a two-month ban from racecourses, effective immediately. He was also given a further two-month ban, suspended for three months.

    Oliver Harland, representing the BHA, said the authority had formally warned Mr Wakefield more than once to improve his behaviour, opting to take a “more pastoral approach” to start with, but that “simply didn’t work”.

    The hearing was told that when a BHA investigating officer tried to give him a letter in person, relating to inquiries over the 2017 Chelmsford incident, Mr Wakefied responded by telling her that she could “get out of my f****** face”. Mr Harland said the BHA could have brought this as a separate charge, but was instead presenting it as an aggravating factor.

    Mr Harland added that Mr Wakefield, who has worked in the industry since the 1980s, was “on notice” about his behaviour when he called staff at Nottingham racecourse “f****** amateurs” in October 2020.

    “They were just doing their job, running the Covid check-in process,” Mr Harland said.

    “The pattern of behaviour we are seeing is that his normal state of mind is aggressive and threatening when he attends racecourses.”

    He added that this “needs to be reflected in the penalty imposed” and Mr Wakefield “needs to take proactive steps” to address his behaviour.

    “There is no excuse for running someone over,” said Mr Harland. “There is no mitigation for that and no excuse for telling several people where to go when they were effectively just doing their job.”

    He added that the “BHA is not naive” about the realities of the job, but the concern is not about “occasional coarse language” or “getting stressed in the job”, rather a pattern of behaviour that has gone “far and beyond what is reasonable”.

    Adam Flacks, representing Mr Wakefield, said his client will attend an anger management course, has apologised for the rule breaches and to the BHA investigating officer, and is “sincere about changing his behaviour”.

    Mr Flacks added that through the criminal court case against him, Mr Wakefield has been punished for the 2017 offence and has “paid his debt to society”.

    The panel heard he is the sole staff member able to drive the 15-tonne horsebox at his employer, Mick Appleby’s yard.

    “Since [the rule breach in 2017] he has attended hundreds of race day events without incident. Mr Wakefield isn’t therefore, someone who causes trouble wherever and whenever he attends racing,” said Mr Flacks.

    Character references, read by Mr Flacks, said that Mr Wakefield “always puts the welfare of the horses first” and that he is “passionate about horse welfare and that has always been his first thought”.

    Panel chairman James O’Mahony explained they considered the two rule breaches together in order to deliver one sanction covering both.

    “You can’t go around treating other people in the racing industry, who are no fools, [this way],” he said. “They are also people who are passionate about horses and racing and are all doing a job, and you can’t go round behaving that way, being verbally abusive and insulting.”

    Mr Wakefield was given a two-month ban from attending racecourses, to start immediately, with a further two months suspended, providing he does not break any further BHA rules in a period of three months. An application to be allowed to continue working in a licensed racing yard was accepted.

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