a mob that kills a person for some presumed offense without legal authority
British racing's integrity division's latest public wilting has caused hand-wringing on an almost unparalleled scale, with The Guardian's Greg Wood leading the Lynch mob's pitchfork brigade in this piece.
Presented by Wood as a cut-and-dried episode of punters being had over by the authorities, a view which has gained immediate and wide-ranging public approval, is the Lynch case really as straightforward as that? And, if so, how has this decision been arrived at by an authority which, in 2014, is claiming to have its sharpest, fiercest regulatory gnashers since the demise of the despotic Jockey Club in 1993.
The management summary is, of course, that Lynch's licence application is not nearly as straightforward as has been presented, though the ultimate conclusion may be. Here are the details of a saga which has run its unsatisfactory course over the fullness of a decade, details of which first emerged on...
3rd July 2006 - Fergal Lynch, Darren Williams, Kieren Fallon, Karl Burke, Alan Berry and others are charged by City of London police in that notorious corruption trial. The licences of Williams and Lynch are revoked pending a hearing.
10th July 2006 - BHB (the forerunner to the BHA) begins making 'ex gratia' payments to Lynch/Williams.
7th December 2007 - The criminal case collapses. Paul Struthers, then PR Manager to the BHA [now Professional Jockeys' Assocation Chief Executive], says:
"The defendants have been cleared of the criminal charges against them. It is not appropriate for the Authority to comment on the proceedings or the police investigation that led to the trial. Irrespective of the outcome, this has been a sad episode for horseracing. The allegation in court that racing and punters were the victims of a conspiracy has been a cloud over the whole sport."
Struthers went on to say that racing's authorities would review all of the evidence in the trial to see if any of its own rules had been breached.
18th December 2007 - Lynch has his licence reinstated in light of the 'not guilty' verdict. He rides 35 winners from 335 rides in UK until...
23rd August 2008 - Lynch has his last rides in Brtain, at Beverley. Meanwhile, a few months previously, on...
1st May 2008 - Lynch is implicated in the disciplinary cases of trainer Paul Blockley and jockey Dean McKeown. Blockley was ultimately disqualified for two and a half years in October 2008, and is now back amongst the training ranks again, supporting his wife, Jo Hughes. McKeown was disqualified for four years. Buried away in a press release on 23rd October 2008 was point 41,
41. It is also the Panel’s conclusion that Blockley will have been the prime source of the inside information which caused the lay betting on races 4, 5 and 8, where the jockeys were Fergal Lynch (on two occasions) and Ian Mongan on one occasion. It seems that the BHA did not carry out investigations with those jockeys, and it was not therefore suggested that there was anything wrong with the riding in those races. The timelines show similar “cascades” of calls down the line from Blockley to Clive Whiting and then on to the lay betters which are so closely related in time that the Panel inferred that it was the Blockley information that inspired those bets.
Circumstantial evidence, granted, but more strongly circumstantial in the context of subsequent findings...
11 February 2009 - BHA concludes its review of the 2006/7 criminal case and finds Lynch, Williams and Burke guilty. Lynch is charged with deliberately preventing Bond City from winning a race, and also with placing bets, in breach of racing's rules. Both breaches were in collusion with Miles Rodgers, himself warned off. Fraternizing with 'warned off' individuals is a further offence in the rules of racing. Sentencing for these multiple transgressions is slated for July.
Below is the official BHA version of the investigative timeline (which doesn't include all of the elements of this article's timeline)
8 January 2003 Darren Williams first interviewed by BHA Investigating Officers
7 December 2007 Trial at the Old Bailey ends
14 December 2007 First letter to City of London Police requesting disclosure
7 February 2008 Initial disclosure from CPS
26 June 2008 Fergal Lynch interviewed by BHA Investigating Officers
1 July 2008 Darren Williams re-interviewed by BHA Investigating Officers
16 July 2008 After lengthy correspondence, first disclosure from City of London Police
30 July 2008 Final disclosure from CPS / Panorama programme, entitled “Racing’s Dirty Secrets” aired on BBC1.
July, August, Sept Various disclosures from City of London Police
& Oct 2008
11 August 2008 Karl Burke interviewed by BHA Investigating Officers
30 September 2008 Darren Williams interviewed for the third time by BHA Investigating Officers
31 October 2008 Karl Burke re-interviewed by BHA Investigating Officers
13 November 2008 Fergal Lynch re-interviewed by BHA Investigating Officers
1 December 2008 Miles Rodgers interviewed by BHA Investigating Officers
And this is a list of the alleged bets made by Fergal Lynch via Miles Rodgers
DATE HORSE COURSE TIME SP RESULT
22.07.04 HARTSHEAD Doncaster 19:00 15/8F 4/11
22.07.04 COMMANDO SCOTT Doncaster 21:00 7/2F 1st/11
24.07.04 RAINBOW QUEEN York 16:00 10/3 3/4
30.07.04 SAROS Thirsk 15:00 12/1 3/13
30.07.04 STRANGELY BROWN (IRE) Nottingham 20:20 13/8F 1st/14
31.07.04 PONGEE Goodwood 14:00 11/8F 2/7
31.07.04 KEY SECRET Thirsk 14.35 5/1 4/10
31.07.04 PROPELLOR Huntingdon 19:20 EvensF 3/6
07.08.04 DOITNOW Ascot 16:20 3/1JF 6/10
07.08.04 BUBBLING FUN Redcar 16:50 7/4F 6/10
09.08.04 TRUE MAGIC Thirsk 19:30 7/1 1st/15
13.08.04 DIDN’T TELL MY WIFE Newbury 17:25 15/8F 1st/9
14.08.04 MAJOR’S CAST Goodwood 20:00 EvensF 1st/5
27.08.04 TOLDO Newcastle 18:25 10/3 1st/10
28.08.04 CRESKELD Redcar 18:20 4/1JF 4/12
7th July 2009 - Lynch is found in breach of rules 157, 220 (iv), 243 and 244, more familiarly known as passing inside information, stopping a horse, betting through a third party, and associating with a disqualified person. The 'disqualified person', the third party taking Lynch's bets, the person demanding the horse be stopped, and the recipient of inside information were all the same person, Miles Rodgers.
On top of the above, Lynch was considered to have lied in court (see the emboldened element in the quote below).
7. The admissions made were undoubtedly admissions of serious breaches of the Rules. Indeed, by the admission of breach of Rule 157 because he “stopped” BOND CITY at Ripon on 31 August 2004 , Lynch was admitting the most serious form of Rule 157 breach: that he deliberately rode to lose knowing that it had been layed to lose by Rodgers. This admission came after denials of any such conduct both in the Old Bailey trial and in these disciplinary proceedings. Though it was clear from the transcripts of telephone calls between Rodgers and Lynch that Lynch was put under pressure by Rodgers to stop BOND CITY, it was equally clear from their conversation shortly after the race that Lynch did what he was asked. As he said – “I’ll tell you what, I don’t really want to do that again ….It’s cost me a winner that ….”
Despite that catalogue of misdemeanours, just one of which carries a minimum starting sentence of two and a half years 'off', Lynch's excommunication was far more truncated.
A complex set of circumstances, including the delay to BHA's internal investigation while the criminal proceedings ran their course; a plea bargain deal agreed by Lynch's representatives and BHA, and sanctioned by the disciplinary panel (who had a right to veto that plea bargain); meant that Lynch was eventually hit with this penalty:
12. Accordingly the only penalty as such which is imposed on Lynch is a fine of £50,000, but it is imposed in the light of the information and undertakings contained in the plea bargain agreement between the BHA and Lynch dated 24 June 2009.
Williams, whose breach of the rules carried a minimum 18 month suspension, was suspended for just three months. (He'd also received ex gratia payments from BHA AND payments from the Injured Jockey Fund during his time off).
Trainer Karl Burke was banned for 12 months for his part in the Rodgers collusion.
9th March 2011 - Lynch's application to ride in the UK is denied on the basis that he is 'not a fit and proper person'. The issue under contention was
“Whether this Committee can decide that Mr Lynch should not be granted a licence because he is not a suitable person regardless of any insight, contrition, rehabilitation or matters of mitigation because of the very serious and dishonest breaches of the Rules of Racing committed by him in the past?”
Seemingly in 2014, the "very serious and dishonest breaches of the Rules of Racing committed by him in the past" have been overlooked, because...
6th August 2014 - Lynch is granted a licence as an overseas jockey, who will mainly ride in other jurisdictions. Reasons for granting the licence appear to be in direct contradiction of the findings of the 2009 hearing:
“It is now 10 years since Fergal Lynch committed those offences and he has paid a price for his mistakes. While the passage of time in its own right does not impact on such a decision, the manner in which Lynch has conducted himself in that period is important. Lynch has satisfied us during the course of his application that he has successfully reformed his character and that subject to the agreed conditions, he should be allowed the opportunity to race ride in Britain once again.
“BHA has shown in recent years that those who seek to undermine the integrity of the sport will be dealt with severely through the disciplinary process. This case is a matter of assessing Lynch’s personal qualities, and recognising but not seeking to further punish previous behaviour. That assessment has led us to the conclusion that it is now fair and reasonable to permit Lynch to ride in Britain.”
Struthers had it right in his previous role as BHA mouthpiece, when he opined, "The allegation in court that racing and punters were the victims of a conspiracy has been a cloud over the whole sport."
But is this latest headline Lynch's fault? Or does the blame at least partially lie with the authorities?
Although Lynch rode his last horse in Britain - Colorus, who beat one of his thirteen rivals home at Beverley in August 2008 - he has been earning a living from race riding all over the world for most of the interim.
First, he travelled to the east coast of America, where his brother was training. He rode there for a year or so before local authorities learned of his indiscretions in UK and banned him in July 2009.
He was then unable to ride for around 18 months before being granted a licence in Spain in Spring 2011. Since then, Lynch has ridden in Spain, France, Germany, UAE, and Ireland, extensively.
There can be little doubt that the leniency of other racing jurisdictions with regards to Lynch's 'fit and proper' status has undermined the BHA's judgment in 2009 that he should not be granted a British licence. But that is not to say that the decision of five years ago should be reversed, with only the passage of time altering the verdict.
To return to the central question, is this a cut-and-dried case of punters being had over by the authorities? The answer is, ostensibly, yes. Certainly, it's an avoidable volte face on the part of the BHA, and it can be seen as the most recent in a sequence of successes by Paul Struthers, a man who should probably be assumed to continue to wield power in the corridors of his former employers.
Now the chief executive of the Professional Jockeys' Association, Struthers has managed to overturn lengthy bans imposed by both the Indian (Martin Dwyer) and Dubai (Pat Cosgrave) racing authorities. Notwithstanding the seemingly draconian sentences handed down in those cases, the international reciprocity arrangements signed up to by pretty much all racing nations have been brought under close scrutiny as a consequence of BHA's unilateralism in reversing or reducing those high profile suspensions. Whilst Struthers might consider them victories for his organization, they cannot be viewed as wins for the sport more widely.
As for the BHA, it seems to have lost some of those Australian sharks' teeth, introduced when Paul Bittar arrived. His tenure is to conclude early next year, and it is frustrating that his stewardship should have begun so promisingly, with a strong stance on the whip rules and the Grand National; but fizzled away in light of the Sungate and morphine drugs cases, and in a worrying trend to reinstate miscreant jockeys regardless of the findings of previous disciplinary panels.
Britain's racing regulators are a notoriously legacy collective, and affecting meaningful change in that context is not a straightforward task. But those who flout the rules of the game so deliberately should not be given second chances. Whether that means making scapegoats of individuals or not, the sport as a whole must do more to protect itself from those leeches - like Rodgers - who seek material gain at the expense of the general betting public.
The problems for the authorities are numerous. Firstly, there can be nothing wrong with a life ban for a jockey who deliberately stops a horse from winning. That the entry level for that breach is two and a half years is plain daft, and needs urgent review.
Secondly, consistency in decision making is absolutely key, as any parent will attest. To determine in 2009 that Lynch's past history means he is not a 'fit and proper person' to ride in Britain, and then five years later decide he is, notwithstanding the constancy of the crime committed, sends a most confusing message.
Sympathy for Lynch has to be tempered by the facts that he deliberately cheated - in multiple ways - and he then lied under oath about that. Indeed, so much has been documented in the BHA notes, and that record implies a contempt of court. If we consider the links with the Blockley case as well there's a good possibility that the Rodgers incidents were not isolated.
Further, Lynch's confessed crimes were committed in 2004, and yet he rode largely unabated in UK until summer 2008, when he immediately transferred to USA and continued to ride there for a year. After a brief hiatus, Lynch was back riding in Spain - and much of the racing continent - as well as, perhaps most disappointingly, Ireland, where he's had 749 rides since 2011. It's hard for those who believe Lynch to have 'served his time' to meaningfully contest his right to ride in that context, to my eye at least.
Wood's Guardian piece is right on the money as far as this scribe is concerned: there should be little sympathy for Lynch as a man who has 'served his time', but the real issue is with the spineless and inconstant management of the situation by the authorities, aided and abetted doubtlessly by the PJA. Racing's external integrity is a thing of enormous import to the sport. Far too much so to be undermined by its own incestuous internal management structures.
Since this post was first published on Monday 11th August, there has been much discussion on various forums, and Paul Struthers, formerly head of PR at BHA and now Chief Executive of the Professional Jockeys' Association, has taken time to offer his view on the Fergal Lynch debate. Paul writes:
Much has been written over the last few days about the decision of the BHAto allow Fergal Lynch to ride in this country, having been prevented from doing so since 2009. Interesting blogs have been written by Matt Bisogno (@mattbisogno) of geegeez.co.uk and John Basquill (@a_bit_dizzee) as well as the editorial by Greg Wood (@Greg_Wood_) in the Guardian.
It would be impossible to do those three pieces justice in a couple of lines, but in summary the conclusions drawn are:
1. The integrity of racing is vitally important – any tolerance of corruption damages punter confidence and strikes a serious blow to racing.
2. What Fergal Lynch did was so bad he should never be allowed back – it undermines claims of a zero tolerance approach to corruption.
3. Allowing him back sets a terrible example to other (younger) jockeys.
4. The BHAis lily livered or incompetent to allow Fergal Lynch to ride here.
No one could disagree with point one but does allowing Fergal Lynch to ride damage punter confidence or strike a serious blow to racing? Whilst the three articles mentioned clearly take the latter stance, plenty of others (both in print and on social media) take an alternate view. One can only take a personal view and I don't believe it does.
As for the other three points, I’d simply make the following observations and comments:
1. I don’t accept that the decision to allow him to ride in Britain (note the decision isn’t yet to licence him here) goes against a zero tolerance attitude to corruption. They have zero tolerance of drink driving in many Scandinavian countries, but you don’t get banned for life if caught. Likewise with drugs in athletics – there’s zero tolerance but that doesn’t automatically mean a lifetime ban. My understanding of zero tolerance is enforcing set penalties for a certain type of behaviour to try and eradicate and disincentivise that behaviour. I therefore don’t believe this decision alters the fact that racing has a zero tolerance approach in this regard.
2. It is easy to ignore certain realities when constructing an argument, particularly when they don’t suit your argument. I believe it is therefore remiss to say that allowing Fergal Lynch back to ride is a terrible example to youngsters and the wrong message to send, whilst at the same time totally neglecting to mention or consider that the current penalties in place are far removed to the penalty regime of the middle of the last decade.
The last two bans for corruption offences – Andrew Heffernan and Eddie Ahern - were 15 and 10 years respectively. With the case of Fergal Lynch having arguably set a precedent of around 5 years of rehabilitation to demonstrate that you are no longer a threat to the integrity of the sport (as they are, in effect, 20 and 15 year bans on being a jockey. I notice this still doesn’t satisfy those calling for life bans, but in effect that’s exactly what those bans are for the two jockeys involved. Ignoring that ignores the current reality.
3. Having agreed a 12 month ban and £50k fine, and given Fergal Lynch’s clean record since and his acts of (genuine and sincere, in my view) contrition and remorse, I doubt the BHA had any legal basis to keep preventing him for riding. Regardless of the perceived leniency of the original penalty (a view I subscribed to at the time and still do) the BHA simply can’t correct any perceived error of the original penalty - especially a penalty imposed as part of a plea bargain deal and therefore a penalty that carried a BHA seal of approval - by continuing to prevent him from riding here. I don’t know for a fact as I wasn’t party to Fergal’s case nor the BHA’s position, but I’d be confident that if they’d have refused again it could have been challenged in court and BHA would have lost, a scenario that wouldn’t be especially appealing to the BHA.
4. As for the reasons for the original decision, my comments to the Guardian at the time, and in interview with Nick Luck on RUK and Alastair Down on C4, were as close as I ever got to saying “this is a poor decision and one I’m very uncomfortable about defending” whilst at the BHA. It is a decision that many still scratch their heads about but ultimately that was the penalty agreed. Those in situ now, on the receiving end of the brickbats, had nothing to do with the original penalty as they weren’t there.
5. I was searching the internet for more eloquent quotes about second chances than I could generate myself, and came across the following, which I thought was quite apt:
“I am tired of people saying that poor character is the only reason people do wrong things. Actually, circumstances cause people to act a certain way. It's from those circumstances that a person's attitude is affected followed by weakening of character. Not the reverse. If we had no faults of our own, we should not take so much pleasure in noticing those in others and judging their lives as either black or white, good or bad. We all live our lives in shades of grey.” ― Shannon L.Alder
I, like most people, have done things in the past I wished I hadn’t. But people change. Circumstances change. I accept that whilst some believe that and think those who’ve done wrong deserve second chances, others are of the view a leopard will never change its spots and don’t subscribe to the second chance theory. I’ve always been of a liberal persuasion so naturally lean towards the former and, given the full set of circumstances, I believe it is right that Fergal has been given a second chance. Others vehemently disagree with that, an opinion they’re perfectly entitled to and one which I understand, even if I disagree with it.
6. Finally, both myself personally and the PJA endorse the BHA’s current penalty regime for the most serious corruption offences. I don’t believe any suggestion that because they’re not officially life bans they’re not tough enough or send out the wrong message stands up to scrutiny. We also agree that a licence is a privilege and not a right, and that it should not be automatic that a licence is issue when time is served (although in the new era of penalties would question if a 5 year wait is entirely justifiable), as long as that decision making process is not simply used to extend a punishment. Just because at times we have a job to support jockeys facing such charges - and make no apologies for doing so - it doesn’t mean we’re not vigorous or genuine in our support of a “zero tolerance” approach to corruption.
- Paul Struthers, 14th August 2014