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Saturday, 15 December, 2018

Morrison to learn fate on Friday as legal team maintain malicious intervention

Hughie Morrison arriving at the BHA on Tuesday for the start of the Our Little Sister inquiry
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Trainer Hughie Morrison will face an anxious wait until Friday morning before learning the result of a BHA inquiry which could impose a career-ending ban.

The independent disciplinary panel sitting in judgement retired at the end of day two to consider the evidence and will inform Morrison and his team of their verdict at 11am, and then the media an hour later.

Morrison theoretically faces disqualification of up to ten years, but his QC Graeme McPherson argued he should avoid all punishment, claiming his client had been a victim of malicious intervention and that "strict liability" and the ensuing penalties that might normally apply in such cases are not appropriate.

Morrison found himself before the BHA at the end of a long-running investigation that began when his filly Our Little Sister tested positive for the steroid nandrolone after finishing last at Wolverhampton on January 14.

He was made aware of the result on February 3 and has ever since vigorously denied any part in the administration of the drug, which both sides agreed can have been administered only by intramuscular injection within a window of opportunity of around a month before the Wolverhampton race.

McPherson criticised the investigation for its failure to preserve all evidence from the outset – a reference in part to a failure to investigate stable CCTV from her outing at Southwell on January 2 before it was recorded over; for the investigators' closed minds; and for their failure to consider what further investigations they might undertake and what other intelligence there might be out there.

Significant mitigation

He argued strenuously for no penalty at all but said that if the panel did impose one they should consider the significant mitigation.

McPherson said he would not argue against disqualification "if the panel concludes that on the balance of probability Mr Morrison pressed the plunger", but he argued the trainer had "taken all reasonable measures" regarding the security of the filly, both at his stables and at the racecourse, and submitted that "a fine of around £1,000 is the way forward" if any penalty is to be imposed, pointing to the signification mitigation.

He said: "In mitigation you have Mr Morrison's exemplary record, which is without blemish over 25 years, you have his extraordinary character references, and his co-operation throughout the investigation". That co-operation which McPherson said went far beyond what might normally be expected as Morrison "pushed the investigation himself and spent a vast amount of money trying to get to the bottom of who was behind it".

He added that the consequences of disqualification would be "catastrophic", not just for Morrison and his family but for his staff and community.

Day two had begun with McPherson's lengthy cross-examination of Tim Miller, the leader of the BHA's investigating officers, which sought to cast doubt on the thoroughness of his investigations and on security at the racecourse stables at Southwell on January 2, and established from Miller that Morrison had "opened up his life" to him in terms of access to telephone records and emails.

Morrison gave evidence to the panel in two parts, the first a somewhat uncomfortable session before lunch when he confirmed that in addition to offering a £10,000 reward for information he had employed a former detective chief inspector as a private investigator in "a bid to find the culprit".

He denied he had instructed him to send an email, that the BHA's counsel Philip Evans described as "threatening", to the trainer named on day one as having been heard to say she would "get at" Our Little Sister.

State of agitation

He explained his state of agitation on the morning of the BHA's investigation team's dawn visit on February 3, comparing it to "going through Bangkok airport and being arrested with Class A drugs in your bag".

Morrison was much more assured in the afternoon session, and when Evans suggested reasons why he, or a member of his staff, might have given the filly a steroid – a known performance enhancer – he argued he had no feasible motive whatsoever, adding "it would be professional suicide to run her three times knowing she had it in her system" and that he would "need to go off with the men in white coats", so strict is the BHA's anti-doping stance.

Evans claimed Morrison had adopted a "scattergun approach" to his denial and had sought to blame the BHA from day one, yet the BHA had "followed up almost every avenue of inquiry" and that its investigation had been "very thorough".

He argued the BHA did not have to prove guilt as the rule Morrison was charged under was "a strict liability offence". He added that "the panel does not need to know the how, when or why", rather it had to ask itself: "Am I satisfied that Morrison has proved this was a malicious intervention?"

Morrison’s punishment will hinge on how the panel interprets the evidence and the rules that were applied to the recent high-profile Philip Hobbs case, in which Hobbs escaped a penalty for a medication infringement.

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In mitigation you have Mr Morrison's exemplary record, which is without blemish over 25 years, and his co-operation throughout the investigation
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