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Sunday, 16 December, 2018

D-Day! BHA not ready to renew Musselburgh licence from Saturday

Musselburgh: will not have its licence renewed as things stand
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The wrangles over the governance of Musselburgh racecourse could be set to reach a momentous conclusion, as it is understood the BHA is currently not prepared to renew the course's licence to race, which expires on Saturday.

When granting Musselburgh a temporary licence last year, the BHA stipulated that a governance review must take place. That review was conducted by legal firm Pinsent Masons and on its basis East Lothian Council made several proposals that increased its power over the track, in effect bringing it under council control.

The BHA has written to the parties involved to state the governing body's board is extremely concerned about the proposed future governance structure of the course and will not renew the licence until those concerns are addressed.

Among the authority's sticking points are the make-up of the new Musselburgh Racing Associated Committee, which it worries will be too oriented away from those with racing expertise. It also expresses concern that those with racing expertise on the committee have not yet been appointed.

An external operator

The current arrangement is a seven-person board forming the Musselburgh Joint Racing Committee, made up of four councillors and three racecourse representatives known as the Lothian Racing Syndicate. The replacement MRAC would reduce the LRS representation by one, emphasising the council's dominance.

Racecourse staff being made council employees and the mooted possibility of bringing in an external operator to take on the day-to-day running of the course are also on the BHA's list of issues.

With reference to the last of those, particular emphasis is on the timeframe of procurement and guarantees over Musselburgh retaining its fixtures should an existing racecourse group be given the keys.

The BHA's head of media Robin Mounsey said: "Discussions are on-going between the BHA, East Lothian Council and the Lothians Racing Syndicate regarding Musselburgh's racecourse licence.

"Upon conclusion of these discussions a decision will be made regarding the status of Musselburgh's licence. The discussions are being conducted on an expedited basis, with the intention of reaching a decision in advance of Musselburgh’s next fixture on May 3."

Farnsworth seeking compensation

The depth of division on the MJRC had been emphasised earlier on Wednesday when it was revealed  racecourse chief executive Bill Farnsworth has lodged a formal grievance against the committee's handling of a five-year-long disciplinary case.

It is understood that at a meeting of the MJRC in March 2013 there was a minuted decision to increase Farnsworth's salary that the four East Lothian Councillors who sit on the seven-strong MJRC later disputed.

A subsequent disciplinary hearing, conducted by a (non-MJRC) member of East Lothian Council, judged that Farnsworth's actions amounted to gross misconduct and he was given a final warning.

Bill Farnsworth: at war with East Lothian Council

However, Farnsworth appealed and in December 2017 the appeal panel ruled: "There is little doubt that decisions have been interpreted differently by different members of the committee at that time."

They concluded that Farnsworth had committed misconduct, but that the initial punishment had been too severe and was duly reduced to an admonishment.

It was at this point that Farnsworth lodged a formal grievance. He said: "Having successfully defended myself against a flawed and unfair disciplinary process, which was orchestrated by East Lothian Councillors on the Musselburgh Joint Racing Committee, I am now seeking the reimbursement of my legal expenses.

"This unsound process, in which councillors can sit as judge and jury reviewing the decisions taken by their fellow councillors, makes a mockery of natural justice.

"The LRS members of the MJRC have consistently argued that there was no case to answer. Their opinions were, not for the first time, suppressed and ignored due to the in-built council majority on the MJRC."

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In a letter seen by the Racing Post, the BHA board are said to be extremely concerned about the proposed future governance structure

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