Oisin Murphy banned from riding for 14 months after Covid and alcohol breaches
Oisin Murphy will not be able to ride again until February next year after accepting he was guilty of five charges brought against him by the BHA.
An independent judicial panel on Tuesday ruled the three-time champion jockey will not be able to reapply for his riding licence for 14 months, backdated to December 8, with 11 months handed out for Covid breaches and conduct prejudicial to the sport's reputation plus a further 100 days for two positive alcohol tests.
The panel was told about what its chairman later described as the "web of deceit" Murphy created around a trip to the Greek island of Mykonos in September 2020. The jockey chose not to self-isolate as required and instead returning to race-riding.
Murphy described how the effect of the dual pressures of the jockeys' championship and the BHA's investigation into his breaking of Covid protocols led to his drinking spiralling "out of control".
The rider appeared at High Holborn to face two charges in relation to breaking Covid protocols in September 2020, and two failed tests for alcohol in May and October of 2021 – as well as one overarching charge of "acting in a manner which is prejudicial to the proper integrity, conduct and good reputation of the sport".
Murphy was given three 11-month suspensions for the two Covid breaches and conduct prejudicial to the reputation of the sport, all to run concurrently, along with a £31,111 fine, while he was given ten days for what amounted to a second alcohol positive for his test at Chester on May 5 and a further 90 days for his third such positive recorded at Newmarket on October 8, totalling an additional 100 days. He can return to race-riding on February 16, 2023.
Murphy did not contest any of the charges. He said he now had his alcohol problem under control after seeking professional help.
Charlotte Davison, the barrister presenting the BHA's case, outlined in great detail an elaborate succession of lies told by Murphy around what she referred to as "the Mykonos matter".
That revolved around a trip to Mykonos from September 9 to September 13 in 2020 that Murphy took while banned. The day before he left, Greece was added to the red list and upon his return Murphy did not self-isolate for 14 days but instead returned to race-riding.
Murphy posted on social media and mentioned in television interviews, as well as when asked directly by the BHA, that he had visited Lake Como in Italy – which was not on the banned list at the time in question.
Murphy also lied in response to the question if he had visited a country on the red list on his right-to-race forms for the 14 days he was supposed to be self-isolating. In that time he rode 74 times at 11 different tracks in two different countries.
He also won 11 races in that period and went on to win the title that year by eight from William Buick, although Murphy's representative Rory Mac Neice rebutted the suggestion it had an impact on the title race.
He argued: "If he had self-isolated he wouldn’t have been riding in any of those races, but to say he wouldn’t have won the championship doesn’t follow. One cannot make the leap to self-isolating means no championship in 2020 because it is not to say what decisions would have been made afterwards. Mr Murphy may have won the championship anyway."
Murphy also accepted he continued to lie about the matter when asked further questions by the BHA until admitting he was indeed in Mykonos, providing details on May 25, 2021. James O'Mahony, who chaired the panel that was also made up of Rachel Spearing and Anthony Connell, described it as "a web of deceit to support his original lie".
The second element of the hearing focused on two failed tests for alcohol – a urine test at Chester on May 5, 2021 and a breathalyser at Newmarket on October 8, the day after the infamous incident at The Yard pub in Newmarket when Murphy was allegedly involved in a drunken altercation.
Murphy accepted his drinking had become a growing problem in recent years and spoke about the pressure he felt under and his reliance on alcohol as a coping mechanism.
Murphy spoke of his own father's battles with alcoholism as well as warnings in his formative years from his uncle Jim Culloty and first employer Aidan O'Brien as to the damaging impact of alcohol.
Murphy said a growing social life and regular commitments made alcohol ever-present. He spoke of how the pressures of his cocaine positive in France, his Covid-protocol violations and his alcohol positives in the UK, along with the daily grind of pursuing the jockeys' championship for four consecutive years, all contributed to him reaching a point where he was using alcohol to black out every night of Glorious Goodwood week and drinking vodka and lemonade in the car on the way home from Chelmsford before the incident at The Yard.
'I can’t go back in time but they were grave errors'
Speaking of the period he spent out of the sport when banned for his cocaine positive, Murphy said: "I was riding out in the morning and then drinking, I’d open a bottle of wine and almost always finish it. I had nothing to do and knew the BHA were on to me about Mykonos."
Once he had returned to race-riding his drinking continued. "I would go home, watch replays alone and drink a bottle of wine or some vodka," he said. "It suddenly dawned on me I had a reliance on alcohol. I felt it enabled me to mix with anyone socially, or to get to sleep at night. The Sunday after Goodwood I realised I’d blacked out every night. I knew it was an issue.
"In the evening I could be capable of drinking one glass of wine or ten, and it took me until then [the incident at The Yard and his breathalyser positive the following day] to realise my methods of dealing with pressure and reliance on alcohol. My drinking had become out of control. I have caused a great amount of damage to my reputation along the way.
"I couldn’t undo the past and that initial lie led to all that deceit. Now I’m sober I don’t think I would have made those mistakes. I can’t go back in time but they were grave errors.
"I admit to all the breaches, I just wish I could have dealt with them better."
When delivering the verdict, O'Mahony said: "We conclude you thought you were above the rules, but they apply to all. You had to self-isolate, that’s all you had to do, as others had to do. Yet you embarked on a prolonged deception. This was conduct, we’re sorry to say, unworthy of a sportsman and a former champion.”
Murphy, 26, surrendered his licence on December 8, 2021 to focus on his rehabilitation and has not race-ridden since.
His ban has been backdated to this date, while the fact he currently does not possess a licence meant Murphy could not technically be suspended. The panel therefore opted to declare him ineligible to reapply for the enforced time period.
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