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Wednesday, 16 January, 2019

Another blow for Havlin as BHA panel upholds French ban

Robert Havlin: remains suspended in Britain and in France until October 4
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Robert Havlin has expressed his deep disappointment at failing to persuade the BHA's disciplinary panel not to reciprocate in Britain the remainder of a six-month drugs ban incurred in France that has already cost him "well into six figures" and at least three Group winners.

The independent panel reached its verdict despite a letter from France Galop received by the BHA on Monday that appeared to open the door to backdating the disciplinary suspension, which started on April 4, in order to take account of the fact Havlin had stood himself down on January 24 on legal advice.

He did this in the belief that the time served under a separate medical suspension imposed for testing positive to banned substances there would be taken into account in the final reckoning.

To the outrage of Havlin's employer John Gosden, who has stood by him throughout and described it as "a Kafkaesque nightmare", he remains suspended in Britain and in France until October 4, even though it appears contrary to conventions observed in many jurisdictions, since Havlin by then will effectively have served more than eight months for a charge that had only a six-month tariff and of which he and his boss are adamant he is innocent.

Although a urine sample taken on October 30 at Saint-Cloud returned positive for several banned substances, including cocaine, Havlin is adamant the results were due to contamination. He did not contest the presence of three banned substances contained in medication he was taking for a back injury, but believed he had observed the appropriate delay before riding.

The core of Tuesday's appeal concerned Havlin's misunderstanding regarding the medical and disciplinary suspensions based upon legal advice from France, where a change in procedures in 2014 had gone unpublicised by France Galop.

The appeal was not allowed to take account of Havlin's vehemently contested positive for cocaine. Tests on a hair sample undertaken at the jockey's request by Toxlab in France have since confirmed that could have come about only through contamination rather than ingestion.

That notwithstanding, France Galop's letter appeared to have opened the door for backdating, only for Patrick Milmo QC, who was chairing the independent panel, to say while submissions were still being heard that "as far as we [the panel] are concerned the suspension runs until 4 October". The implication that Milmo's mind was made up caused some consternation, but the panel immediately reassured Havlin's team this was not the case.

John Gosden: "He is the victim of an appalling miscarriage of justice"
Gosden, who said Havlin had missed "three, possibly four Group winners", besides the financial cost and damage to his reputation, told the panel at the end of submissions: "Mr Havlin has worked for me for 17 years and if I thought he had been a fool I wouldn't be here with him today. He is the victim of an appalling miscarriage of justice."

His frustration was plain when the decision not to to allow the appeal was confirmed, and he underlined: "He is innocent – that's the point. The door was open. This is not right and we will continue to fight it. France Galop have not followed their own protocols regarding the B sample. He's played it absolutely straight yet has suffered for it.

"It's not a good message to go out. It's ended here, but not there [France]."

Havlin said: "It's cost me well into six figures but I would do it all again as I could not look my children in the eye if they were looking me up on Google in ten years' time and asking me why I hadn't contested it."

The final written reasons behind the panel's decision will be published in due course but in summary Milmo said that following a previous case involving Pat Cosgrave the only grounds that the BHA would allow him not to reciprocate a decision (ie the disciplinary suspension starting April 4) made by a recognised authority was if there had been a breach of natural justice.

He concluded: "In our opinion there were no breaches of natural justice that can be relied upon. The BHA has no power to backdate the start of the suspension imposed by France Galop. Their letter refers to the misunderstanding by Mr Havlin, but it cannot be grounds for interrupting the effect of the reciprocal arrangement."

He added: "We do have sympathy for Mr Havlin, who has maintained his innocence throughout this unfortunate affair, but sympathy alone is not sufficient to allow us to interfere with the reciprocation of a suspension."

Paul Struthers  chief executive of the Professional Jockeys Association, said: "It is bitterly disappointing that Rab's application has been unsuccessful and his nightmare must continue for almost two more months, the result being that he has effectively been suspended for over eight months for an offence he was given six months for and did not commit in any event.

"Rab voluntarily stood himself down in Britain whilst he attempted to clear his name in France and is now paying the price for that in circumstances where it was highly likely, if not certain, that the BHA would have acted to stand him down had he not volunteered to do so. No other rider in future will volunteer to stand himself down in similar circumstances.”

He is innocent – that's the point. This is not right and we will continue to fight it
E.W. Terms
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