Three-time champion jockey Oisin Murphy has been banned from reapplying for his riding licence for 14 months after admitting all charges brought by the British Horseracing Authority (BHA) at an independent disciplinary panel hearing today (22 February).
The hearing, which included testimony from Oisin himself, painted a picture of a young man struggling with alcohol, who found himself trapped in a web of lies.
The charges, which he did not dispute, included breaching Covid restrictions, by failing to self-isolate on returning from a holiday in Mykonos in September 2020, and repeatedly lying about where he had been. He also admitted two alcohol offences, relating to Chester in May 2021 and Newmarket in October 2021, after which he realised he needed to change his ways.
In total, Oisin was fined £31,111 and will be ineligible to reapply for his licence for 14 months, backdated to 8 December 2021, when he voluntarily surrendered his licence to focus on rehabilitation. This means he cannot reapply to ride in races until 16 February 2023.
“However affected by addiction you may have been, we conclude that you thought you were above the rules and the law,” said independent disciplinary panel chairman James O’Mahony.
“However high you are, you are not above them, they apply to all.”
Mr O’Mahony said Oisin is clearly a “brilliant jockey and superb horseman”, and that the panel was “not here to criticise you for the sake of it”, but to explain its reasons and apply the rules.
He added that abiding by the 14-day self-isolation rules was “all you had to do, as countless others had to”.
“But you embarked on a deception. It was planned carefully, calculated and detailed, and prolonged for a significant period of time,” he said, adding that Oisin “embroidered” and “reinforced the lie” with details in the media, even giving the BHA names of others who would support his story.
“You had time to think ‘what am I doing’?” Mr O’Mahony said. “You only put your hands up when you had your back against the wall.”
He added: “This conduct, I’m sorry to say, was unworthy of a sportsman and previous champion. And you, as you have acknowledged, have let down your mates, your colleagues, the racing public and the sport. You were prepared to take risks with the health of others.”
Mr O’Mahony said the panel took into account Oisin’s testimony about his addiction, which they accept as “candid and frank”, wishing him well on his road to rehabilitation.
The sentence was in effect split in two main parts, with the heaviest sanctions for the three Covid-related charges. For each of these, he was given effectively an 11-month ban on reapplying for his licence, to run concurrently, as well as a £31,111 on the charge of acting in a manner prejudicial to the proper integrity, conduct and good reputation of the sport.
Oisin was also given a 10- and a 90-day ban on reapplying for his licence for the alcohol charges. These will run consecutively to the Covid sanctions, which bring the total period of ineligibility to 14 months.
As Oisin has already handed in his licence, the panel could not technically “suspend him”, so they instead served him with this period of ineligibility, before he can apply for a licence again.
It was a lie, fuelled by “very bad” decisions from a young man struggling with alcohol dependency, that went too far, was the picture painted during the hearing.
When Oisin set out for Mykonos on 9 September 2020, just a few people knew where he was really going. The Greek island was on the list of places travellers were required to self-isolate from for 14 days on their return.
But Oisin pretended that he was instead on holiday at Lake Como, in Italy, which had no self-isolation requirements on returning to the UK.
Charlotte Davison, acting for the BHA, told the hearing Oisin had “unequivocally denied” being to the Greek islands when asked by the BHA at the time, instead claiming that he had travelled to Lake Como.
The hearing was told Oisin had maintained in the media that he had been on holiday at Lake Como, going as far in his Sporting Life blog to mention the “Italian bulge” from the good food he was eating.
But research by the BHA found photos on his Instagram were geographically tagged at Mykonos Island. A video of Oisin swimming in a rooftop pool, where someone could be heard shouting “Oisin”, was shared on Twitter, where a person had questioned whether he was in Italy or Mykonos.
The BHA called him on 17 September, when he denied travelling to Mykonos – a lie he maintained until 25 May the following year. The panel heard that Oisin “did not recall” speaking with someone from the BHA, but accepts that it must have happened.
At one point during the BHA’s investigation, Oisin was said to go as far as telling BHA that he would “love to go to Mykonos, but I’ve never been there”.
Ms Davison said he told the BHA that he could not explain the location tag on his Instagram photos, which was later removed, and that people he had travelled with would confirm his location.
On 5 May, he was asked to provide his travel documents from 7 to 13 September, bank and credit card statements, accommodation details and photos within his control. On 25 May, he admitted in a letter to the BHA that he had travelled to Mykonos and not to Lake Como along with an “unreserved apology” and acknowledged he should have told the truth.
He added that he knew when he “stepped foot” on the plane that he was going to be telling some people that he wasn’t going there.
“I got back from Mykonos having lied to anyone who had asked where I had been,” he said, adding he felt like he “had to keep up the lie” and that “all these lies could be contained”.
He put it down to having a “jockey’s mindset” and convinced himself that as he felt well and had moved in a small circle during his holiday, that he wasn’t putting anyone at risk. He rode out, completed the BHA Covid questionnaire inaccurately on four occasions and won 11 races during the 14-day period he should have been self-isolating. His winning margin in that year’s Flat Jockeys Championship title was eight races.
“From outside perhaps to some, being Mr Murphy looks like a life one might envy. But there has been a cost to that success,” said Rory Mac Neice, representing the jockey.
“This is an individual who, over a number of years, had a growing, continuing difficulty with his relationship with alcohol that was causing him to make bad decisions.”
Oisin openly addressed the panel, speaking frankly about the pressure he places upon himself and how he used alcohol as a coping mechanism for both the highs and the lows.
“I dealt with both the same. The success by drinking and the lack-of-success by drinking and that is the rock I perished on, really,” he said.
The emotion caught in his voice during his testimony, recalling how he had had the right support around him, but had not been able to see it. He summarised how, as a young teenager starting out, he had listened to advice and had stayed away from the pub, did not party and his success in the saddle grew rapidly.
As his career progressed, so too did the socialising. He described how on occasions over the years he had stopped or significantly reduced his drinking. But in recent years, commitments and dinners with connections increased, his social circle expanded and alcohol was always around. With the added pressure he put on himself to succeed, the feeling the jockey’s title championship was “slipping away”, the Mykonos situation and the impact of dealing with the cocaine contamination case in France – Oisin has always, and continues to, deny ever having taken cocaine – he relied increasingly on alcohol.
The hearing heard the night before he tested above the threshold at Chester, he had a glass of wine at dinner and another that night to help him sleep, but felt fine the following day.
He recalled that the Sunday after the Goodwood Festival, he realised he had blacked out each night of the meeting. The “line in the sand” came on the morning of his failed breath test at Newmarket on 8 October, where he was stood down before riding.
“My friends started telling me stories, some of it untrue, some of it true, [about the night before] all of a sudden the panic set in,” he said.
He wrote to all the trainers he should have been riding for that day to apologise and has not drunk since. He is also receiving ongoing support.
“I never drank in the morning on the way [to the races], but in the evening I could be capable of drinking one glass of wine or 10 and not knowing what I had done,” he said. “I should have realised earlier, the writing was on the wall.
“I convinced myself that I didn’t have a drinking problem because I didn’t get out of bed in the morning and have a drink.
“I can’t undo the past. That initial lie led to countless lies and deceits.
“Now I’m sober, I’m a different person. I don’t think I would have made those errors. I can’t go back in time and I’m afraid they are grave issues, grave errors.
“I admit all the breaches. I just wish I could have dealt with them better at the time.”
‘BHA will offer any support’
A BHA statement, released after the hearing, condemned Oisin’s rule breaches, while also offering “any support” he requests moving forward.
“Mr Murphy’s breaches of the Rules were extremely serious, reckless and potentially incredibly damaging for the sport. They risked endangering his fellow jockeys and racing industry participants,” said the BHA statement.
“The BHA is proud of the way the industry adapted to the challenges caused by the Covid-19 pandemic and how racing was able to restart quickly and successfully behind closed doors. Mr Murphy’s actions put this at risk. They also occurred at a time when so many people were making great sacrifices to follow the rules and protocols set out by the British Governments and the racing industry.
“Mr Murphy also acted with pre-meditation to deceive the racing industry and public regarding his whereabouts, as well as BHA investigators.”
The statement added: “In their summing up, the independent Panel stated that Mr Murphy’s conduct was unworthy of a sportsman and previous champion, and he had let down his colleagues and the sport.
“We would, however, also acknowledge that Mr Murphy later made full, public admissions regarding these offences, and did not seek to contest the rule breaches at today’s hearing. He also gave full and frank admissions regarding his personal battles.
“All of these matters were considered by the independent Panel in their decisions regarding a penalty for Mr Murphy.
“While it is important that this penalty is served and Mr Murphy’s offences are seen to be acted upon, we would also call on everyone in the sport to respect the admissions that he has made about his physical and mental wellbeing and his need for rehabilitation. The BHA will offer any support that Mr Murphy requests in this ongoing process.
“As with many elite sportspeople, the pressures on jockeys can be significant. We would urge anyone in the racing industry who has suffered from any of the issues outlined by Mr Murphy in the hearing, or who knows of anyone who is struggling, to contact the various support structures that are in place in British racing.
“These include Racing Welfare, representative bodies such as the PJA [Professional Jockeys Association], NTF [National Trainers Federation] and NARS [National Association of Racing Staff], the sport’s anonymous RaceWISE reporting line, or the BHA.”
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