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A sorry end to a sorry affair: this appeal hearing was questionable in many ways

Robbie Dunne's 18-month penalty for bullying Bryony Frost was reduced to ten months at his appeal hearing
Robbie Dunne's 18-month penalty for bullying Bryony Frost was reduced to ten months at his appeal hearing

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What took place in the BHA's London basement may have brought to an end, officially, at least, one of British racing's sorriest recent stories. If so, the book was closed with a chapter that in places felt sorry in itself.

It was, of course, never going to be inspirational. The nine men in the room had assembled for Robbie Dunne's appeal against the guilty verdicts and 18-month suspension handed out by the independent disciplinary panel last December. Bryony Frost, the woman at the centre of the case, was understandably not in attendance. Bearing in mind how things went, that is not entirely a bad thing.

There were moments during the hearing when it appeared as though the momentum was firmly behind the appellant. Very early in proceedings Anthony Boswood QC, the new panel's chair, revealed some misgivings about the charges and original hearing. It was therefore not necessarily a surprise that by the end of the afternoon Dunne's punishment had been reduced from 18 months (three of which were suspended) to ten months.

Robbie Dunne: at Cheltenham on Friday
Robbie Dunne: can return at Ffos Las on October 9Credit: Alan Crowhurst (Getty Images)

He can now return at Ffos Las on October 9 when, based on the evidence of these last few months, he is likely to pick up more rides than Frost. When he does make that comeback, Dunne will still be the jockey who subjected one of his colleagues to a period of protracted bullying, behaviour Boswood described in his summation as "thoroughly reprehensible and disgraceful". It was not, however, deemed worthy of the 18 months that Brian Barker, James O’Mahony and Alison Royston believed perfectly fair in December.

Remember that the Barker-led trio had stated in their written reasons that they "were not troubled by any borderline decision on either guilt or sanction". For them, after hearing the evidence of numerous witnesses, including Dunne and Frost, it was an open-and-shut case. What seemed certain to them became rather less certain to their successors.

Also changed was the individual providing the vocal support to Dunne. Robin Mathew QC, who had called on Dunne's services when a permit holder, mounted the case for the defence and, in doing so, sought to discredit Frost. He was merely doing his job, but it was still uncomfortable to hear.

He described Dunne's conduct towards Frost as "reprehensible", but not "intolerable". He argued the disciplinary panel should have been more influenced by the lack of concern expressed by jockeys, seemingly overlooking the fact Frost felt ostracised by the weighing room. Mathew also claimed a tweet posted by Dunne about Frost would have been "let go" by most people, and that it was actually less severe than comments made about him when he trained a 50-1 winner at Towcester. He even questioned what Frost said she was feeling.

"We set out a number of reasons why it is clear in our submission that distress or fear was not caused," declared Mathew. "It is significant that however emotional Bryony Frost may have been at one time or another, she was obviously moved to emotion quite quickly."

The BHA's legal representative, Louis Weston, was rightly fired up.

"It's not for the bully to determine to the bullied how they should react to being bullied?" said Weston, adding: "It's an outrageous suggestion on behalf of Mr Dunne."

Boswood recommended to Weston he should "try to avoid that word". He accordingly revised outrageous to unacceptable. What Mathew suggested was both outrageous and unacceptable.

The exchange, and a subsequent one in which Boswood challenged Weston's assertion that using certain foul and abusive language must always be considered unjustified, was reflective of a tone that differed from that which characterised the initial hearing. Although both Boswood and Mathew acted entirely professionally, there were times when one might have thought we were witnessing a scene more suited to a London gentlemen's members' club.

Bryony Frost: gave evidence at the original independent disciplinary panel hearing
Bryony Frost: gave evidence at the original independent disciplinary panel hearingCredit: Edward Whitaker

"I was certainly never allowed on the inside of you, even if I had the courage to go there," Mathew said to Boswood, presumably harking back to days when they rode as amateurs. It all seemed a bit odd and out of place, as did the occasional mild chortle.

We will learn more about the appeal board's thinking when we get the written explanations. For now, we have just Boswood's belief that the disciplinary panel perhaps gave "insufficient credit for items of mitigation".

One of those was Dunne's "readiness to participate in a banging of heads together" at Kempton. Boswood quite correctly said Frost was entitled to decline the request. It is, however, hard to understand why a proposed meeting between the victim of bullying and the person subjecting her to the bullying should ever be described as "a banging of heads", nor why the perpetrator of wrongdoing should be somehow commended for being "prepared to participate".

Some of the words used on Wednesday were questionable. So, too, was the decision to reduce Dunne's penalty.

Read more on this subject:

Robbie Dunne ban for bullying Bryony Frost reduced to ten months on appeal

'However angry you are, you cannot use certain language. It's not an excuse'

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Published on 30 March 2022inBritain

Last updated 17:16, 31 March 2022