Jockey Club chief resigns after report upholds allegations of gross misconduct
Delia Bushell's troubled tenure at the head of the Jockey Club has ended in sensational circumstances after an independent barrister upheld allegations centred around the bullying of colleagues, the use of racist comments and sharing offensive material.
Having held one of British racing's most powerful positions for less than a year, Bushell has left the sport following a determination by a trio of the Jockey Club's leading figures that there were grounds for disciplinary action due to "gross misconduct".
Bushell tendered her resignation at lunchtime on Sunday and put forward an extraordinary defence of her behaviour having been told earlier this week that the Jockey Club's board of stewards had decided to dismiss her from the organisation.
In a stinging attack on those stewards (reproduced in full below), Bushell spoke of "collusion by a number of male witnesses, all senior executives in the Jockey Club" and said: "This grievance process, and the management of the broader situation created by it, have been fundamentally mishandled by the board of stewards. The board's engagement with me has been disingenuous and focused on protecting its own interest at my expense.
"The board purports to be upholding fairness in its management of the grievance, but this is not the case: the process followed was both flawed and biased."
The Racing Post revealed two weeks ago that Bushell – who succeeded Simon Bazalgette as Jockey Club group chief executive last September – was at the centre of a formal complaint, lodged by one of her senior colleagues.
In a Sunday evening statement, the Jockey Club said: "The board of the Jockey Club announces today that Delia Bushell is to stand down as group chief executive with immediate effect. This follows the completion of an independent review into a wide range of allegations about her conduct, which the board concluded made it untenable for her to continue in the role.
"As part of this review, an independent barrister interviewed 19 witnesses, including Delia. He submitted a detailed report to a sub-committee of the board comprising Dido Harding, Julia Budd and Justin Dowley on Sunday 23rd August, in which he concluded that there was evidence to support a number of the allegations of misconduct, including bullying behaviour towards colleagues, inappropriate racist comments and sharing offensive materials.
"The sub-committee of the board agreed with his conclusion and decided that there was a basis for disciplinary action against Delia including on the grounds of gross misconduct. This recommendation was accepted by the full board of the Jockey Club.
"The board of the Jockey Club also announces that Nevin Truesdale has been appointed as acting group chief executive."
Truesdale joined the Jockey Club in August 2013 and previously was responsible for all aspects of financial and commercial planning, reporting and control as group chief financial officer. He was one of those last year in contention for the chief executive role but lost out to Bushell, who entered racing having spent a significant portion of her career working in television, both at Sky and BT Sport. She more recently had a shorter stint with US technology company Afiniti.
The broadcasting background was one of the key reasons Bushell was selected, yet it quickly became apparent she was much more cautious than her predecessor in agreeing an extension of the sport's partnership with ITV, whose new three-year deal was agreed only earlier this month.
In her resignation letter, Bushell describes racing as "deeply resistant to change" and claims the employee who made the formal complaint was in a role "impacted" by a planned restructure of the business.
She wrote: "I have been subjected to unmerited, dishonourable, bullying behaviour by people I previously held in high regard and trusted. I clearly cannot rely on the trust and confidence of the board, which has once again allowed the long-standing discriminatory undertones of the Jockey Club to prevail.
"Given the toxicity of the working environment I find myself in, the predetermination of the disciplinary and the clear and ongoing threats to my reputation, I have no choice but to accept the repudiatory conduct described in this letter and to resign with immediate effect."
Delia Bushell's resignation letter in full
Dear Board of Stewards,
I am writing to convey my sense of shock and sadness at my treatment by the Jockey Club, and to tender my resignation with immediate effect.
I was appointed into a highly challenging change-agent role in an organisation and industry that is deeply resistant to change. As our Board of Stewards, you were clear in your instructions to me, repeatedly, that I deliver rapid transformation, despite unsuccessful attempts by the Board to engender this in recent years, and then despite the additional headwinds created by the Covid crisis. When I arrived in Autumn 2019, Sandy Dudgeon instructed me to make an immediate change in ‘tone and pace’ both internally and externally. I was regularly congratulated by the Board on the quality of strategic work being produced and told that, if I was ruffling feathers as we progressed, that usually meant I was “doing the right thing”.
In July, as we began to implement a full restructure of the business, an employee whose role is impacted by the proposed restructure raised a grievance against me, with 22 allegations encompassing everything from victimisation to a lack of phone calls from me. You instructed a supposedly independent barrister to look into these, and then this confidential matter was leaked to the press from within the Jockey Club, with clear intent to undermine my position and harm me.
This grievance process, and the management of the broader situation created by it, have been fundamentally mishandled by the Board of Stewards. The Board’s engagement with me has been disingenuous and focused on protecting its own interests at my expense.
The Board purports to be upholding fairness in its management of the grievance, but this is not the case: the process followed was both flawed and biased. There is nothing fair about a process in which the testimony of myself and my witnesses is largely disregarded or discredited on the grounds that they “may not be objective”, while the evidence of collusion by a number of male witnesses, all senior executives in the Jockey Club, both ahead of the filing of the grievance and during the investigation process itself, is ignored by your barrister.
Several witnesses contacted me to express their concerns about the barrister’s lack of impartiality and their impression that the line of questioning was designed to achieve a particular outcome. They suggested that the process appeared a deeply unpleasant ‘stitch up’ and advised that I walk away from the Jockey Club immediately.
Your barrister’s conclusions also seem designed to eliminate any reference to, or criticism of, the role that the Board of Stewards itself has played in creating the conditions in which this grievance was raised, or of the previous failures of various Board members to protect me in the face of discriminatory behaviour towards me. In the investigation interview itself, the barrister told me that he had been instructed by Julia Budd to ‘keep the Board of Stewards out of it’, and that I could not call on Board members as witnesses. In the conclusions section of the investigation report, any piece of evidence related to a member of the Board, however material it was in evidencing the facts or context of events, has been ignored. This includes, for example, the Board members’ own repeated criticisms of members of the JCR Board and of the prior Group and JCR CEOs, and instructions to more proactively performance manage JCR Board members, or indeed to discipline or ‘remove’ them. Also entirely absent from the report’s conclusions is any mention of the evidence I supplied of the Jockey Club’s extensive history of staff raising grievances, and of a male-dominated organisation that has a troubling history of ignoring serious complaints against senior men and which seeks to discredit and ostracise anyone challenging its status quo.
The supposedly confidential scrutiny of this grievance was breached just before your barrister delivered his conclusions with a leak of information about this matter to the Sunday Times and, shortly before, to the Racing Post. Tellingly, your public relations strategy included withholding from me any communication from the Sunday Times, even though that newspaper’s journalist had emailed a request to share her communication with me. On learning of this, you instructed me not to defend myself against the leaked allegation.
I have been subjected to unmerited, dishonourable, bullying behaviour by people I previously held in high regard and trusted. I clearly cannot rely on the trust and confidence of the Board, which has once again allowed the long-standing discriminatory undertones of the Jockey Club to prevail. Given the toxicity of the working environment I find myself in, the predetermination of the disciplinary and the clear and ongoing threats to my reputation, I have no choice but to accept the repudiatory conduct described in this letter and to resign with immediate effect. I reserve all of my rights.
I note that this report did not uphold the complaint of bullying, nor of 15 other allegations. I do not accept the barrister’s findings in relation to the other allegations.
I hope the Board of Stewards will reflect at length on their conduct during this sad process, on the culture they have presided over at the Jockey Club for many years, and on the impact created by their mismanagement of a collusive series of allegations by someone who felt threatened by a change management process that they themselves had required. While I do not claim to be perfect in all that I have done, nothing in my conduct has merited what I have experienced over the past two months and it causes me sadness that I will no longer have the opportunity to support and mentor some of the excellent colleagues that I have had the opportunity to work with over the past year.
I hope that the next Jockey Club Group CEO receives the real support they need to deliver this programme of much-needed change.
Group Chief Executive
The Jockey Club
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