Weighing room culture under fire after Dunne-Frost bullying case is leaked

Bryony Frost after victory on 40-1 shot Balagan at Uttoxeter
Bryony Frost: complained of behaviour by fellow rider Robbie DunneCredit: Steve Davies/Pool

The BHA has defended its handling of the investigation into allegations of bullying made by Bryony Frost against fellow rider Robbie Dunne as the weighing room culture at British racecourses came under severe scrutiny following the publication of the case's intimate details.

Charges against Dunne for “conduct prejudicial to the integrity or good reputation” of racing were revealed after a 120-page investigators’ report was leaked, with the BHA referring itself to the Information Commissioner after concluding that the leak may have come from within its own integrity department.

The leaked report details Frost’s belief of an ongoing ill-feeling between the two riders dating back to 2017 that grew more intense after Dunne accused her of dangerous riding on two occasions last year, with Dunne accused of using foul language and making threatening comments after the second incident in September last year. Dunne denied the allegations.

After interviewing other jockeys and valets, the BHA investigators concluded in the report that “there is a cultural issue in which threatening behaviour is condoned and not reported in the weighing room. It is submitted that it is likely that this is why it has been difficult for the BHA to gather detailed witness evidence from occupants of the weighing room”.

In response the BHA said in a statement on Sunday that racing was “not immune to issues around conduct and behaviours which are prevalent in all aspects of society and other sports” and that work was ongoing to establish an industry-wide code of conduct for the sport in Britain that “will be enshrined in the rules and ensures that appropriate behaviours are endorsed and bad behaviours are discouraged”.

Media reports over the weekend indicated the BHA’s investigation into the case concluded in April, and the regulator said that the case was moving towards a conclusion.

“In the interests of procedural fairness the BHA does not comment on the details of ongoing investigations,” the BHA said. “This case is close to reaching its conclusion, with directions hearings scheduled for the near future.

Masses to worry about as Frost-Dunne case descends into pre-hearing turmoil

“It is an important case and one that the BHA is taking very seriously. Cases such as this may be complex and involve significant legal representation. In order to ensure fairness for all parties such procedures – including the directions hearings – must be allowed to play out in full, and in private rather than through the media.

“However, as is usual process, and in the interests of openness and transparency, the BHA would make public the details of any cases which are heard in front of its independent disciplinary panel, prior to any hearing taking place.”

While not commenting directly on the Frost-Dunne case, the Professional Jockeys Association (PJA) said in a statement that it had brought in its own code of conduct for members this year and that "the safety and wellbeing of its members has always been, and remains, the PJA’s number one priority".

It added that it was a "deeply concerning development" that a leak "may have been the result of a serious data breach within the BHA".

Jockeys approached by the Racing Post on Sunday were reluctant to talk about the culture of the weighing room and the behaviour of riders, but one jockey stressed it was a competitive working environment with a hierarchy that tended to lean on more experienced professionals handling riding disagreements and cautioning younger jockeys where it was felt it was needed.

Britain’s leading jumps trainer this season Fergal O’Brien, whose daughter Fern has had ten rides and four winners on the Flat this year, said: “The weighing room is their sanctuary and from my point of view with Fern she’s had ten rides and everyone has looked after her. So at the moment the experience has been fine for her.”

The BHA’s handling of the Frost-Dunne case was lambasted by Dunne’s solicitor Daryl Cowan, who said the regulator had “completely lost control” and that its integrity department was “unfit for purpose”.

Cowan also highlighted what he called the mysterious departure from the BHA of its head of integrity Chris Watts, who was confirmed last month to have left the regulator after four years.

Cowan said on Sunday: “The BHA has completely lost control of this case. Under the BHA’s much vaunted judicial panels’ code, the case papers relevant to an investigation are, or are supposed to be, strictly confidential.

“The BHA has admitted to us that the original leak may have come from within its own integrity department, and that it has notified the Information Commissioner. The data breach has come on the back of an investigation that has been irredeemably compromised by conflicts of interest and partisanships.

“Pretty much every rule of professional and neutral evidence gathering has been broken, including the misrepresentation and selective editing of witness testimony.

“To cap it all, we are told that Chris Watts, the investigator, will not now be available to be cross-examined on his investigation and it seems may have left the BHA in mysterious circumstances. Its so-called integrity department has shown itself to be unfit for purpose.”

Of the leaked case details, the BHA said: "In any case of this nature, documentation is shared in confidence with a number of relevant parties. The source of the documentation is not yet known in this case, but this will form part of the BHA’s investigatory work around this case. In the meantime, it is unhelpful to speculate on the source via the media."

Dunne did not want to comment when contacted on Saturday, while Frost could not be reached for comment.

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