Robbie Dunne had his ban for bullying and harassing fellow jockey Bryony Frost reduced by eight months in an appeal before the British Horseracing Authority’s (BHA) independent appeal board today (Wednesday, 30 March).
Mr Dunne (pictured, top) was appealing the findings and 18-month suspension given following his six-day hearing before the BHA’s independent disciplinary panel in 2021. At that hearing, he was found in breach of four counts of BHA Rules regarding integrity, proper conduct and good reputation of British racing, for bullying and harassing Miss Frost over a six-month period in 2020, including threatening Miss Frost by promising to “put her through a wing [of a fence]”. He was also accused of using misogynistic language such as “f****** w***e”, “f****** s**t” and “dangerous ****”.
Anthony Boswood, chairman of the today’s appeal board panel, condemned Mr Dunne’s “reprehensible and disgraceful” behaviour, but said the original penalties were “very severe” and that the disciplinary panel gave “insufficient credit” to mitigating factors.
“We wish to make it clear that Mr Dunne’s behaviour was thoroughly reprehensible and disgraceful,” he said. “Any jockey behaving like that in future must expect serious punishment.”
He added that the panel thought the sanctions given at the original hearing were “very severe”, at six times the entry point for one of the other rules he was charged under, “given the number of rides Mr Dunne will have lost to date and will lose in future at this late stage in his career”.
The mitigating factors Mr Boswood referred to included Mr Dunne’s attempted apology after the incident at Stratford, and his willingness to participate in a “banging of heads”, facilitated by Richard Johnson after discussions with Miss Frost’s father, Jimmy Frost.
Mr Boswood said Miss Frost had not accepted Mr Dunne’s apology and did not want to take part in the “banging of heads” – a decision she was “fully entitled to take”.
Mr Dunne was given an 18-month ban, with three months suspended, at the original hearing from 30 November to 9 December 2021.
The panel today (30 March) dismissed the appeal, while at the same time lessening Mr Dunne’s ban to 10 months. The ban will now run until 9 October 2022.
The appeal board panel also adjusted the four breaches of rule J19 – conduct prejudicial to integrity, proper conduct or good reputation of racing in Britain – to one overarching breach, covering all offences.
Mr Boswood gave the brief summary at the appeal hearing and said that full written reasons for the decision will follow in due course.
‘Language unacceptable under any circumstances’
The appeal ruling hinged strongly on mitigation, but the hearing itself covered far more.
Robin Mathew QC, who headed Mr Dunne’s defence, said the disciplinary panel had reached an “unfair and unjust decision” in December and that the “straining and winnowing of the evidence should have been much better than it was”.
He argued that insufficient weight had been given to evidence from other members of the weighing room. He said that if there had been a “pernicious undertaking” of one person against another, someone would have stepped in, and that the panel also “divorced” evidence from its context.
Mr Mathew said words and turns of phrase, such as “murder you”, have a different meaning in the weighing room. For J19 to apply, he said, their usage would need to be “genuinely perceived by the knowledgeable bystander as not being mere bluster and unpleasantness” but that they were “genuinely violent and meaningful in the context they were uttered”. He argued that those in the weighing room had the required knowledge to be aware that the latter was not the case.
Mathew also suggested Miss Frost was someone who was “moved to emotion quite quickly” and that “most people” would have “let go” Mr Dunne’s “silly” tweet about her interview style around the time of the virtual Grand National, but that she was “in a mood not to”.
Louis Weston, representing the BHA, fired back at the inference Miss Frost was in some way “to blame”, and the reference to Miss Frost being “quickly moved to emotion”. He described the suggestions as “outrageous” – a word Mr Boswood asked him to avoid using, settling on “unacceptable” instead.
“It is not for the bully to determine how the bullied should react,” said Mr Weston.
Mr Boswood also questioned whether it is really possible to differentiate between different types of bad language, to which Mr Weston replied that certain words such as misogynistic slurs against a woman are “simply unacceptable”.
“There is not a single workplace in this country where you can use that language to a woman and stay in your job,,” he said.
“There are some terms – racist language, gender-based slurs, sexually based slurs – that are simply unacceptable under any circumstances, however angry you are.”
He added that you “cannot have” a sport where someone is “threatening to cause serious injury” to another; nor is it acceptable for someone to be hiding in a room to avoid someone, as Miss Frost did, because of intimidation and bullying.
“These remarks led Bryony Frost, who is a professional athlete, to be reduced to tears and fearful of turning up to her own workplace,” he said, rebutting Mathew’s description of events as a “spat”.
“You cannot have, in the modern day, a sport in which one person is threatening to cause serious injury to another.
“What takes this well beyond [a spat] is it is sustained, deliberate, threatening of real harm and the language use is completely, objectively offensive.”
‘Complex and emotive case’
A BHA statement following the hearing said that it acknowledges the appeal board’s decision to amend the penalty and awaits the full reasons.
“This reduction in penalty in no way diminishes the recognition of the severity of the allegations that were brought against Mr Dunne. Indeed, it continues to send a clear message that conduct of this nature cannot be tolerated in any working environment within our sport,” it said.
“Following the original decision last year, the BHA released a statement which outlines our commitment to improving workplace standards, conduct and wellbeing. Work is continuing with industry colleagues to finalise the industry code of conduct, with a view to it going before the BHA board in the first half of the year.
“A cross-industry working party has also been formed to look at ways of improving education and awareness around the standards of conducted expected across the sport.
“Once again, we recognise that this has been a challenging period for all involved in this complex and emotive case, and we ask that the privacy and wellbeing of both parties is respected as they continue to receive the support of the appropriate bodies and those close to them.
“We now await the appeal board’s written reasons before we can comment on any of the technicalities around their findings or any other matters associated with the hearing.”
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