A hearing of the Independent Disciplinary Panel of the British Horseracing Authority (BHA) to enquire as to whether Mr David Flood, a licensed trainer was in breach of (J)21 of the Rules of Racing in that he allegedly verbally abused a BHA official.
A - Wolverhampton Racecourse 13 March 2021:
This was the Heed Your Hunch at Betway Handicap Stakes in which KENDERGARTEN KOP (IRE) trained by Mr Flood finished 8th out of 10; it was found that the horse had sustained an injury. The relevant events concerned alleged language used by Mr Flood in exchanges with Ms Kate Maxwell, the Veterinary Officer (VO) at the course. A Stewards Enquiry was held and the Stewards referred the matter to this Panel.
B - The Rule:
Rule (J)21 of the Rules provides that
“A person must not abuse a BHA official whether verbally or otherwise.” The Rule appears under the general heading : “Conduct Prejudicial to Horseracing.”
C - Process of Case and Procedural/ Case Management Rulings:
It became clear from the papers available that Mr Flood admitted calling the VO “a clown,” but denied any further attributed verbal abuse. It was clear also that there was potential in the hearing that the focus could shift from the real issue to Mr Flood’s perception of the conduct and care by the VO of the horse. Given the clear terms and the focus of the Rule and the evidence the Chairman of this Panel made Rulings as to procedure and case management as follows:
I/ that calling a VO a “clown” in this context was verbal abuse;
II/ that any comments on the professional integrity, skill and conduct of the VO were irrelevant and inadmissible; the focus of the Rule is plain;
III/ however - as indeed it proved to be the case - that it was highly likely that the Panel would acknowledge that any loss of control / loss of temper by Mr Flood was connected with his concern for the injured horse.
D - The Hearing
Miss Charlotte Davison appeared for the BHA. Mr Flood appeared in person, all via Zoom as ever nowadays. It was explained to Mr Flood that as an unrepresented party that the Panel and Miss Davison would, subject to their duties, assist him in presentation of his case. Having had the legal interpretation of the Rule explained to him, in particular that admittedly calling the VO a “clown“ did of itself amount to verbal abuse and therefore commission of the offence, Mr Flood admitted the breach in that regard. Given however that the BHA case referred to significantly more verbal abuse by Mr Flood there followed an evidential hearing for the Panel to consider the extent of the established verbal abuse (in what criminal lawyers would call a “Newton“ hearing). The Chairman’s Ruling as to admissibility and relevant evidence was reinforced. The relevant evidence was: “what was said by Mr Flood to the VO?”
We heard evidence from Kate Maxwell the VO; Karen West the Equine Welfare Integrity Officer; we saw CCTV footage; we heard evidence from Mr Flood and Ms Anastasia Bishop, a witness called by Mr Flood; we heard final submissions.
E - Our Findings. On the balance of probabilities:
I/ the verbal abuse given by Mr Flood went significantly further than the use of the term “clown“, in particular
a) we saw in the CCTV footage that Mr Flood was pointing aggressively at the VO;
b) on the above standard of proof Mr Flood did call the VO an “idiot,”
c) that on the clearest evidence ie what he himself accepted in evidence before us he said “I have dealt with people like you before and I have blown them away “; we do not conclude that this was a deliberate threat but we do accept that anyone to whom it was directed may well have perceived that it was but
d) that we do not conclude on the balance of probabilities that the “F” word was used in conjunction with “clown;” on this particular matter without disbelief of anyone we prefer the evidence of Mr Flood and his witness;
II/ Mr Flood had lost his doubtless customary control against the background of an injury to the horse in his charge;
III/ Since despite the ruling as to admissibility the line was crossed into the area of the integrity and professional care by of the VO as to the horse we make the following absolutely clear:
- no criticism can be made as to the VO’s care, concern or professional skill as to her dealings with the horse;
- We had the advantage - although it was not necessary for him to be called - of a written statement of Mr James Given the Director of Equine Health and Welfare as to the above;
IV/ we noted and took into account points properly made by Mr Flood as to some differences between the accounts given by witnesses called by the BHA and discrepancy between the witnesses estimates of timing of the incident and the CCTV footage timing. These points did not however prevail against the conclusions we made on the evidence as a whole.
V - As in all walks of life and in Horseracing, there will arise differences of opinion and feelings can run high. However, there can be no excuse for lack of appropriate respect on all sides; still less can verbal abuse be excused.
F - The Penalty:
We apply the guideline. Taking all into account we conclude that a penalty at the entry point of £1,000 is fair and just and that we impose.
The Panel for the Enquiry was: HH James O'Mahony, Alison Royston and Steve Winfield.
Please note, the BHA Judicial Panel is an independent body which encompasses the Disciplinary Panel, Appeal Board and Licensing Committee. It receives administrative support from the BHA via the Judicial Panel Secretary.
The original article can be found here.