Former trainer Lee James found in breach of rules on care after investigators described horse as 'emaciated'

A veterinary officers looks on at the runners circling at the start for a race at Taunton
Lee James has not had a runner since November 2020 and no longer holds a licenceCredit: Edward Whitaker

Former Malton trainer Lee James was found in breach of all three charges against him as a two-day disciplinary hearing ended on Tuesday and must now wait until the week after next to learn his punishment. A three-person panel deliberated for around 45 minutes before finding the BHA had proved its case against James, who had denied breaching the rules about appropriate care of racehorses during his time as a trainer.

The panel offered no detail as to the basis of its decision or as to which specific allegations were found to be proved. A summary of its reasons will be provided to James's defence team on Monday so that arguments as to the appropriate penalty can be drafted by the end of next week.

James spent much of Tuesday morning under cross-examination and was especially adamant in rejecting a BHA allegation that he had waited half a year before calling a vet to examine Iconic Figure, found to have suffered a triple fracture to a leg when x-rays were taken in July 2019. The BHA contends that injury had occurred in January.

"I'm not going to have a horse in a box with a broken leg, it's beyond all reason to suggest that," James insisted. "To suggest I would keep a horse with that level of injury in a box without treatment is frankly ludicrous."

Charlotte Davison for the BHA pointed to an interview with a BHA investigator in which James himself said the injury had occurred in January, while a note taken by the attending vet also indicated the injury had happened some time before x-rays were taken. James said he had been "punch drunk" by the time of the BHA interview and had made a mistake which he had sought to correct long before this week's hearing.

Summing up on James's behalf, the barrister Alex Francis said the ex-trainer had been consistent through all his interviews in saying he had sought immediate veterinary assistance, whether he was referring to January or July. "Why would Mr James leave a horse with a very serious injury and not have him seen by a vet?" he asked. "It just doesn't stack up."

Davison argued: "Mr James has no choice but to accept that in fact no vet was called out in January and so now he has to claim the horse was only injured in July, when we know a vet was called. if he didn't change the date of injury, he would of course be admitting breach of the rules."

Iconic Figure recovered from that injury but was described as being in an emaciated state by BHA investigators who made an unannounced visit to James's North Yorkshire yard in November 2021. However, Francis produced a witness, Karon Brown, a thoroughbred nutritionist, who attended the yard that week and said the horse was "thin, not emaciated" and added: "I've seen a number of horses in worse condition at racing stables and bloodstock sales."

Francis concluded by acknowledging the BHA had made "an extremely thorough investigation" but went on: "They appear to have set about identifying every conceivable issue on the yard that they could. The evidence the BHA relies on is nothing more than a snapshot in time. It rests on what was found on 22 November 2021," when investigators were concerned about a shortage of feed and bedding on the premises.

"Mr and Mrs James were regularly attending their local supplier to obtain food and bedding because they had cashflow issues," Francis contended. "They didn't have the capital available to make bulk orders.

"They shouldn't be penalised for that. It's their evidence that, had the BHA arrived after their visit to the supplier, they would have found the yard in a very different state. No complaints have been made about Mr James or his yard previously over a very long career."

Francis and his instructing solicitor, Alastair Campbell, were thanked by the panel for taking on James's case on a pro bono basis.

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Chris CookSenior reporter
Published on 23 May 2023Last updated 20:10, 23 May 2023