Irish jockey Robbie Dunne has had his 18-month suspension for bullying and harassing fellow rider Bryony Frost reduced to 10 months on appeal.
Dunne had initially been found in breach of four charges of rule (J)19 which covers conduct prejudicial to the integrity, proper conduct and good reputation of racing, for a series of incidents between February 13th, 2020 and September 3rd, 2020.
However, despite agreeing that Dunne had been guilty of breaching rule (J)19, Appeal Board chair Anthony Boswood QC felt one breach of the rule, rather than the previous four, covered all the offences.
As his suspension began on December 10th, 2021 it will end on October 9th, 2022.
In summing up Boswood said: “We wish to make it clear we think Mr Dunne’s behaviour was thoroughly reprehensible and any jockey behaving like that in future must accept serious punishment.
“We think the [original] sentence was, however, very severe, as it represented the minimum entry point six times higher than that for rule (J)20, which was also charged. We think it was severe given the number of rides Mr Dunne will have lost to date and will lose in the future and this late stage of his career.
"We also think that maybe the disciplinary panel gave insufficient credit for items of mitigation such as his attempted apology after the Stratford race – which Bryony Frost refused to accept, which she was fully entitled to do, and the refusal to take part in the 'banging of heads' proposed by Richard Johnson and her father Jimmy Frost at Kempton. Again she didn't want to participate, a position she was fully entitled to take – but Mr Dunne was prepared to take part.
“So we have decided to reduce the suspension to 10 months.”
Dunne had been found by the independent disciplinary panel of the British Horseracing Authority to have threatened Frost at Southwell by promising to “put her through a wing [of a fence]” and he was also accused of using misogynistic language such as “f****** whore”, “f****** slut” and “dangerous c***” towards her.
Dunne’s team felt the initial penalty handed out of an 18-month ban was “an unjust and unfair decision” based on the premise that the language he had used towards Frost was not taken into the context as it was used in the weighing room.
Robin Matthew QC, a former permit holder who had been drafted in by Dunne since the initial hearing, told the appeal hearing he felt the original disciplinary panel had been led astray by not placing enough emphasis on the testimony of several of Dunne’s weighing-room colleagues over the Southwell incident.
Matthew said that term, or when jockeys would say they would “murder you”, as Frost claimed Dunne had also said, were common in the weighing room and there was evidence to suggest something similar would be said every day.
Matthew sought to reinforce Dunne’s claim that it was a widely held view that Frost’s riding style was dangerous and that it was odd that evidence from fellow jockeys who were said to have agreed should be discounted, more that it was Dunne who took it upon himself to tell her of their concerns.
“That is how his behaviour has to be judged,” said Matthew.
Matthew also said the evidence provided by former amateur jockey Hannah Welch should not have been given as much weight as it was as it did not relate to the period in question and she had very little experience – a point BHA representative Louis Weston QC took umbrage with.
While Dunne’s team agreed a tweet which mocked Frost, sent before the virtual Grand National, was “silly”, they argued most jockeys would have laughed it off but given the mood Frost was in she was not prepared to do so.
Another aspect brought up in the appeal was the key witness from the original trial, the fence attendant at Stratford, but Matthew stated his view of the incident could have been “over-egged” due to aspects of the evidence being leaked to the press. That was a notion Weston rubbished as the witness did not come forward until after the BHA sent out a notice informing there would be a hearing.
Matthew concluded by saying the penalty should be discernible for each offence but that they felt the 18-month ban was excessive as it could do “long-lasting damage or even terminate” his career. “This is not the type of penalty we would envisage being handed out for a breach of these rules,” he said.
Weston, who spoke for over an hour, made the point that Dunne’s use of misogynistic language was prejudicial to the reputation of racing.
“That language was inappropriate and you should have no hesitation in agreeing that the panel made a reasonable decision,” said Weston on the initial finding.
“The appellant [Dunne] would have it that the proper test to apply is one of self-regulation, and that cannot possibly be right in the view of the BHA.
“This was a particularly unpleasant case of sustained conduct and a very experienced panel reached the decision they did.”
Following the appeal verdict, the BHA issued a statement in which it said: “The independent Appeal Board has today upheld the decision of the independent disciplinary panel that Robbie Dunne is in breach of rule (J)19 in that his conduct was prejudicial to the integrity, proper conduct or good reputation of horseracing in Great Britain. We acknowledge their decision to amend the penalty he will serve and await the full reasons in relation to that aspect.
“This reduction in penalty in no way diminishes the recognition of the severity of the allegations that were brought against Mr Dunne. Indeed, it continues to send a clear message that conduct of this nature cannot be tolerated in any working environment within our sport.”
It added: “Once again, we recognise that this has been a challenging period for all involved in this complex and emotive case, and we ask that the privacy and wellbeing of both parties is respected as they continue to receive the support of the appropriate bodies and those close to them.”