Jockey Robbie Dunne was given an 18-month ban by the British Horseracing Authority on Thursday after being found in breach on four counts of conduct prejudicial to racing after the disciplinary panel ruled he had bullied and harassed fellow rider Bryony Frost.
Dunne’s suspension is effective immediately, with the last three months of the 18-month period intended to be served as a suspended sentence.
Here, the PA news agency looks at how the situation arose.
Who is Robbie Dunne?
Dublin-born Dunne, 36, initially undertook spells with Dermot Weld and Arthur Moore before riding freelance and eventually moving to Britain to ply his trade. He struck up a fruitful connection with Venetia Williams in the UK, earning a regular slot aboard dual Grade Three winner Rigadin De Beauchene, while Hilary Parrott’s Wayward Prince won both the Grimthorpe Chase and the Scottish Grand National for him in 2015. More recently Dunne has been successful several times aboard Ian Williams’ Dragon Bones, who he rode to a Listed win at Doncaster in March.
Who is Bryony Frost?
Frost, 26, is the daughter of Grand National-winning jockey turned trainer Jimmy Frost. She shot to prominence when winning the 2017 Foxhunter Chase at the Cheltenham Festival aboard Pacha Du Polder before turning professional and winning her first Grade One aboard Black Corton later that year. She became the first female jockey to win a Grade One over obstacles at the Festival when taking the 2019 Ryanair Chase on Frodon and was also crowned champion conditional jockey that campaign. Frost, who regularly rides for champion trainer Paul Nicholls, also won the 2020 King George VI Chase aboard Frodon and recently enjoyed another top-level success aboard that horse when he took the Champion Chase at Down Royal in late October. Frost’s most recent significant triumph was at Sandown on December 4, when she won the Tingle Creek aboard Nicholls’ Greaneteen.
What allegations were made?
Frost made an official complaint to the BHA in September 2020, reporting several instances of bullying and harassment that she had suffered at the hands of Dunne. Seven breaches were established from her complaint, four of conduct prejudicial to the reputation of horseracing and three of violent and improper behaviour. Dunne was alleged to have threatened Frost by promising to “put her through a wing” and is also accused of using misogynistic language such as “f****** whore”, “f****** slut” and “dangerous c***” towards her. The BHA’s then head of integrity, Chris Watts, spoke to Dunne, Frost and several witnesses and filed a 120-page report on his findings.
What did the BHA do next?
Watts left his role in September 2021, after which elements of the report were leaked to the Sunday Times via a currently unidentified source. As a result of the leak, the Professional Jockeys Association called for the case to be dropped over concerns that a fair hearing was no longer possible. However, the BHA opted to continue the case, officially charging Dunne with conduct “prejudicial to the integrity, proper conduct and good reputation of horse racing in by bullying and harassing a fellow licensed jockey”. Dunne denied all but one of the charges and disputed the language used in the admitted breach.
When did the hearing take place?
The hearing took place before an independent panel comprising of Brian Barker QC, James O’Mahony and Alison Royston. It began at the BHA headquarters in High Holborn, London, on November 30 and ran for five days with Dunne represented by Roderick Moore and Louis Weston as the BHA counsel.
What did the BHA say?
Weston told the panel that Dunne had used “foul, sexually abusive and misogynistic language towards her (Frost) and threatened to cause her serious physical harm by injuring her at the racecourse”. They reviewed footage of one of the allegations, where Dunne could be seen shouting and pointing at Frost, and heard evidence from a fence attendant at Stratford who overheard Dunne calling Frost a “f****** slut”. Former rider Hannah Welch also gave testimony and described her own altercation with Dunne, who she accused of shouting and swearing at her, with three valets providing evidence having been present during some of the incidents. Frost gave evidence in person and tearfully told the panel “to me, personally, the isolation I felt for speaking out, I wouldn’t wish it on anyone”.
What did Robbie Dunne say?
Dunne attributed his issues with Frost to her style of riding, saying she rode “irresponsibly” on occasions and that other jockeys agreed with him. Tom Scudamore, Nico de Boinville, Ben Poste and Lucy Gardner, as well as former jockeys Richard Johnson and Lizzie Kelly, all gave evidence. Johnson described having tried to smooth out the issues between the two parties with the help of valet Chris Maude, who also provided his testimony. Dunne also alleged he had received a threatening phone call from an individual with a West Country accent and suggested that the bullying claims had been raised after those behind the call realised they had “gone too far”.
What was the conclusion?
The panel found Dunne to be in breach on all four counts of prejudicial conduct, with the three counts of violent and improper behaviour not considered as the former breach carries a higher tariff. Barker, head of the panel, said “a course of deliberate conduct over a significant period of time has been revealed” which had “progressed from distasteful targeting to deliberate harassment on and off the course and onwards to occasional cases of dangerous bullying”.
What was the sanction?
Dunne was banned for 18 months, the final three of which is suspended, and no financial penalty has been applied. The ban is effective immediately, although Dunne has seven days to lodge an appeal. Barker said Dunne’s “behaviour and language would not be tolerated in any other walk of life or workplace”.
What was Frost’s reaction?
Frost issued a statement after the ruling that read: “I would like to thank every individual including the racing public that has supported me not only during the last couple of weeks but throughout. I wish now to take a few days to reflect on the outcome before I make any further comment.”
What did the BHA and PJA think of the verdict?
While chief executive Julie Harrington praised Frost’s bravery and spoke of a “potentially seminal moment” for racing, she also moved to distance the BHA from Weston’s suggestion the weighing-room culture was “rancid” – a statement that sparked condemnation from the PJA. The riders’ union expressed sympathy for Frost and admitted Dunne’s conduct had fallen short, but rejected any broader concerns made about jockeys’ conduct within the sport, doubling down on their earlier submission the hearing was unfair and saying it had “lost confidence” in the disciplinary panel due to its “failure to ever criticise the BHA, its case management and its processes”.
How does racing move forward?
There is little doubt the length of time taken to process the case – and the newspaper leak – have hardened positions on both sides, but the parties must come together if harmony is to be restored. An industry-wide code of conduct is in the works and plans to improve female changing facilities on course were recently announced, with the latter a particularly welcome move in the 21st century. Plenty of jockeys praise the camaraderie of the weighing room and likely there is more often than not a spirit of togetherness, but the BHA and PJA must now jointly find a way of steering back to steadier waters, with an updated take on what is – and is not – acceptable.