PJA chief accepts Bryony Frost was bullied rather than 'felt bullied'
Paul Struthers, chief executive of the Professional Jockeys Association (PJA), has accepted that the organisation was wrong to say Bryony Frost had "felt" bullied by fellow rider Robbie Dunne rather than acknowledging that she had been bullied after Dunne was banned for 18 months.
Dunne was found guilty of bullying and harassing Frost by an independent disciplinary panel, which ruled that Dunne had engaged in conduct online, on the track and in the weighing room that was prejudicial to the integrity, proper conduct and good reputation of racing.
As well as criticising the BHA investigation and the disciplinary panel, the PJA statement following Thursday's ruling said Frost "felt" bullied, which led to a headline in the Times suggesting the jockeys' organisation had 'backed' Dunne.
Struthers conceded on Sunday that the wording used was incorrect and that rather than just feeling bullied she had been bullied by Dunne.
Speaking to Nick Luck on Sunday morning, Struthers said: "Yes we do accept the disciplinary panel's judgement on that and their decision that she was. It's the first time we've had a case like this involving bullying allegations that pitted one member against another.
"We have a job to support both and we had one member making very serious allegations and another maintaining their innocence of all bar one of them.
"We were trying to find the words that walked that tightrope and we understand why it has caused the issues that it has, and that's why we do want to make clear that we do accept the disciplinary panel's finding that Bryony was bullied and the language used was deeply and grossly inappropriate."
Asked to clarify that the PJA was wrong to say Frost "felt" bullied, Struthers added: "We certainly accept we could have phrased it differently. I think there's that balance between the two polar opposite positions of the individuals involved in this case, but yes."
During her testimony Frost had spoken emotionally about Dunne's bullying of her and the manner in which she had been ostracised by male and female colleagues in the weighing room.
Struthers said the PJA had reached out to Frost since Thursday's verdict, although acknowledged she may have felt she had not been supported through the process by the PJA and that the organisation could have done things differently.
"We've learned an awful lot from this process but certainly through Mick Fitzgerald, who is a [PJA] board member and Bryony's coach, we have made sure there has been someone with a role at the PJA that has been in touch with Bryony," he said.
"We have offered support at numerous times throughout this. It has been challenging. I think there are certain unique challenges in this particular set of circumstances. I think there are certainly things we've learned and there are things we could have done better.
"Bryony is a very valued member of the PJA. She has been through an awful time and she has shown great courage. I'm sure that Bryony feels we haven't supported her and I acknowledge that. I know we have to do better and know there are things in hindsight we could have done differently."
The PJA has faced criticism for attempting in October to get the case dismissed before it could come before a judicial panel, which Struthers accepted on Sunday may have been an error on the PJA's behalf, although he once again expressed his view that the disciplinary panel process is not a fair one.
He said: "Maybe it was an error and it would have certainly made life easier had we not made that call. We accept the panel's decision. I think undoubtedly the panel conducted a process that was as fair as it could be, absolutely.
"The problem we have, and I know this is unpopular, is that we don't think the whole process is fair. Regardless of that, we do accept the panel's verdict.
"We're taking advice on elements of the entire disciplinary process."
Struthers also admitted that Thursday's statement from the PJA had further inflamed the situation but said he had felt compelled to defend its members after BHA counsel Louis Weston questioned whether there was a "rancid and sour" culture in the weighing room and the panel had expressed concern that the weighing room culture is "deep-rooted and coercive".
"It was so, so damaging," he said of the comments made about the weighing room. "I don't do this job because I think I'm trying to cover up a culture in the weighing room that is awful. We know everything is not perfect. There are definitely things that need to change, but that was so inflammatory that it did cause us a major issue.
"I certainly apologise from a personal perspective that our statement did further inflame things and detracted from what Bryony had been through, what the panel found that she'd suffered, and she has, she'd been bullied.
"We had to do what we did but I do understand it made a bad situation where there were no winners, it certainly didn't improve it."
Asked what the PJA was now going to do to build both bridges with Frost and make the weighing room a better place for all its members, he added: "We will be reaching out to Bryony. We need to understand and apologise if, undoubtedly, we could have done things differently. We need to work with the BHA and with jockeys to foster a more respectful culture.
"It is a dangerous sport and a tough sport. I don’t think racing needs to be as tough as it is. I think it’s tough across the board, it’s tough for trainers, tough for racing staff, it’s tough for jockeys.
"I know there’s a jockey training and development strategy where there are key recommendations in there to help improve this. We’ve introduced the code of conduct and we’ve changed our structure.
"We need to make sure that there is significant improvement. There’s work to do. Racing needs to do more, all of racing needs to get together to do more and we need to make sure this doesn’t happen again."
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