Jockey Robbie Dunne has been banned for 18 months, with three months suspended, after the disciplinary panel of the British Horseracing Authority found him in breach on all counts of conduct prejudicial to horseracing and that he had bullied and harassed fellow rider Bryony Frost.
Dunne was charged with seven breaches in total, four of conduct prejudicial to horseracing and three of violent and threatening behaviour, with all but one of those charges denied. The 36-year-old, who was not given a financial penalty, was told there were “a combination of factors” which meant his punishment was above the entry point.
An independent three-person panel, chaired by Brian Barker QC, found the four prejudicial conduct breaches to have been proven, while the latter three are yet to be considered.
The majority of the incidents in question took place in 2020, when Dunne was found by the panel to have threatened Frost by promising to “put her through a wing (of a fence)” and he was also accused of using misogynistic language such as “f****** whore”, “f****** slut” and “dangerous c***” towards her.
Barker said: “Our conclusion on the whole of the evidence is that a course of deliberate conduct over a significant period of time has been revealed.
“This has progressed from distasteful targeting to deliberate harassment on and off the course and onwards to occasional cases of dangerous bullying.
“We find that the words used on September 3 were, as a promise, to cause real harm – over and above the usual jockey mantra of ‘murdering’.
“On the examination of Ms Frost’s evidence and demeanour we find her to be truthful, thoughtful and compelling.
“By taking her complaint to the authority she has broken the code (of the weighing room), knowing that her isolation – and rejection by some – was inevitable."
He went on: "In acknowledging after the Southwell race Mr Dunne believed that Ms Frost was the cause of his mount’s death and that he had suffered a fall, we are unable to accept Mr Dunne’s sweep of denials, criticisms and his reasons.
"A man who in the view of one of his own witnesses was “a p*** taker” and who regarded himself as one of the elders of the weighing room and someone who expected his view to be heeded.
"Behind the four elements set out in rule (J) 19 we find those proved. I’d like to make two further observations. The type of excessive language used towards Ms Frost was totally unacceptable, whatever the frustrations about her style and whatever the habits of the weighing room.
"Secondly, in reviewing the evidence given and their approach, by jockeys of repute, as well as by the valets – who probably find themselves in a difficult position – we have a real concern that what was referred to by Mr Weston as “the weighing-room culture” is deep-rooted and coercive and that in itself is not conducive to the development of modern-day race-riding."
Barker added: “In our view she (Frost) has supported (her case) in a number of areas. The first is the published comments on the Virtual Grand National, the second is the apology at Bangor, the third is the video of the encounter in the pull-up area at Stratford combined with the independent evidence of the fence attendant.
“Also the acceptance of at least some offensive behaviour at Southwell which was followed by Ms Frost’s report to the BHA, and the evidence of Ms (Hannah) Welch (former amateur jockey), which we also found persuasive in admissible support.”
Addressing the leaked BHA report into the allegations and the suggestion that this may have prejudiced the hearing, Barker said: “It is an unfortunate fact that the preliminary process has been overshadowed by extraordinary and unprecedented leaks, either one leak or two leaks, of confidential information.
“In relation to that, the independent enquiry continues. The fact of that leak has led to both distress and unhelpful speculation.
“Fortunately in recent days most of those subsidiary matters have fallen away and as a result we now view that there has been a thorough public investigation and dissection of the core areas, which, looked at in totality, will be of great concern to many who love, support and enjoy the sport.”
In regards to the penalty imposed, which is effective immediately, with Dunne having seven days in which to lodge an appeal, Barker said: “We have taken our time to consider submissions that have been made, both from the BHA and from Mr Dunne. We will say this – professional athletes should behave in a professional way and I am afraid you haven’t.
“This was a deliberate targeting of a colleague whose vulnerabilities you exploited. Whatever your view of her style this was not the way to deal with it. Your behaviour was not appropriate in any sport.
“We have to consider both aggravating features and mitigating features. I view the aggravating features are that this was a deliberate course of conduct, in public, over a fairly long period, which had its desired effect.
“Your behaviour and language would not be tolerated in any other walk of life or workplace. Additionally, in the course of this hearing you have adopted an aggressive attack on her (Frost’s) personality in order to justify your actions. There has been little sign of understanding.
“Mitigation we have considered carefully, but we can’t, I’m afraid, give any credit to the limited plea that was made. We considered the leak, the leak would have had a negative impact on you and it was most unfortunate from every point of view. But nevertheless, the negative impact applied to everybody involved.
“We note that you were following a culture that seems to be approved of by your peers and we are particularly conscious that your livelihood will be significantly affected. We have taken particular notice to the medical report, we do understand your suffering at the loss of your best friend (Liam Treadwell).
“You meant to instil fear and humiliation and you succeeded. Your actions were not appropriate in an equal-terms sport, nor did they meet the expectations of acceptable behaviour.”
He added: “There are a combination of factors, in our view, that take this substantially above the entry point. We agree the appropriate approach is to give concurrent sentences, our view is overall that the appropriate sentence is one of 18 months suspension of licence. We did not consider a financial penalty to be appropriate.
“Taking into account a number of matters urged upon us, we do consider it is just to suspend three months of that term. You will understand the effect of this and the suspension will take place in the usual way.”
Giving her reaction, Frost said in a statement she would “take a few days” for reflection before commenting further.
“I would like to thank every individual including the racing public that has supported me not only during the last couple of weeks but throughout,” she said.
“I wish now to take a few days to reflect on the outcome before I make any further comment. I ask the media to please give me and the people closest to me a few days of privacy. I need to focus on my upcoming rides over the weekend. Thank you.”
The panel is hearing submissions on penalties by the BHA and Dunne’s legal team.
Barry Geraghty, winner of the Cheltenham Gold Cup and Grand National in his glittering career in the saddle, felt it was a “sad” day for racing.
He said: “My reaction is sad I suppose, there is no winner, obviously it’s tough for Bryony, tough for Robbie and tough for racing as well.
“You’d have to be in the enquiry itself to have a grasp of all the detail, but for me it’s not a reflection on the weighing room and the culture, that’s the bit that really gets me.”
Responding to claims from the BHA’s Louis Weston, who in his closing statement on Wednesday claimed that the culture in the weighing room was “rancid’, Geraghty said: “Not the weighing room I was in for 24 years and I’ve only been gone just over 18 months.
“There is nothing more precious to me than my children and if they decided to pursue a career as jockeys the racecourse would be the only place I would fear for them, not the weighing-room culture, fellow riders or valets.
“The weighing room I was in for 24 years was a happy place, it was good fun. We’d have clashes and differences of opinion, but I never witnessed bullying and if someone was getting a hard time from someone else, someone would generally step in and address the situation.
“It’s hard to hear these comments like ‘rancid’ because that is not the place I spent most of my life. I’d be all for new measures – if they are brought in – to stop this sort of thing happening again. You don’t want to see an incident like this again. If there is an issue people need to be able to address it.
“But I think it’s unfair to the people in the weighing room to be painted in this way.”
Alain Cawley believes his weighing-room colleague has been “hard done by”. Speaking after riding at winner at Newcastle on Thursday, he told Sky Sports Racing: “I think Robbie has been hard done by, (being) found guilty of everything he has.
“I’ve been in the weighing room a long time and I’ve never heard anyone say (anything) but how good it was in there (for all the) young people coming along.
“Going back when all the older boys were there, especially when I was starting – it helped me out. For me the weighing room is a great place to be. I haven’t heard many people say that it wasn’t. I feel sorry for Robbie. Hopefully it’ll get looked into again – I don’t think it’s right.
“We’re all adults, or the majority of us are adults. We’ve all had tussles and bustles about people – how many married people go home and swear at each other and have rows every night of the week.
“Swearing is part of life and it’s a tough sport we’re in. We risk our lives when we go out there. Foul language is used everywhere. I’m not saying it’s right to use it in certain ways, but we’re grown people – men and women in there. We’re tough people to be out there in that game.
“It’s a tough sport, but it’s for everyone – whoever wants to come into the game, we’re open to everyone coming into the game.”
Gay Kelleway, the first female jockey to ride a winner at Royal Ascot and now a successful trainer, told Sky Sports Racing: “This is 40 years too late, this is what I had to suffer back in the day when I was riding and it has taken quite a few decades for a clearer vision of what lady jockeys go through.
“This is not just Bryony, a lot of lady jockeys kept schtum about a lot of things. I know one particular Flat jockey told me about her experiences, but she was too scared to say anything. At last they’ve heard Bryony and I’m delighted with the verdict.
“I think she can move on from this – look at her, the proof of the pudding is in the eating, going through all this she won the Tingle Creek and she won today, that’s how she does the talking. She’s carried on like a professional, but thank God she had the courage to speak up.”
On the subject of the weighing room, changes to which have recently been announced by the BHA, Kelleway said: “In my day I wasn’t allowed to put my toe in the changing room, they made it very clear women jockeys were not allowed in so we had our small room to change in.
“Obviously there’s a lot more women riders now, but you don’t see Serena Williams going into Andy Murray’s changing room and racecourses needed this kick up the backside to improve facilities – and why on earth haven’t we got female valets?
“The saying of what goes on in the weighing room stays in the weighing room is a pile of you know what as far as I’m concerned, everything needs to be more transparent. A young jockey should be able to go and complain if they are being bullied or feel intimidated.”