Robbie Dunne has seven days to appeal against a finding that he subjected his fellow rider Bryony Frost to a prolonged and deliberate campaign of bullying and harassment following the publication on Thursday of the three-person panel’s written reasons for their decision.
Dunne was banned from riding for 18 months, with the final three months suspended, following a six-day hearing of the case by the British Horseracing Authority’s independent disciplinary panel in December, 14 months after Frost lodged a formal complaint with the regulator over her treatment by Dunne.
The hearing heard evidence that Frost had been subjected to physical, verbal and online bullying by Dunne, including deliberate intimidation during races and a “promise” by Dunne to Frost that “I am going to hurt you” after a race at Southwell in September 2020, which Frost understood to be a “genuine threat”.
While the charges against Dunne related to events between February and September last year, Frost also told the panel that she remembered Dunne “opening his towel up and shaking himself in front of me” when she was an amateur in the early stages of her career. Her claim that Dunne had been abusive to other riders was supported by Hannah Welch, a former amateur jockey, who gave “compelling” and “entirely believable” evidence that he had reduced her to tears with verbal abuse after a race in November 2018.
The panel’s written reasons make it clear that while its decision was made on the balance of probability, its members “were not troubled by any borderline decision on either guilt or sanction” and were satisfied that “this was deliberate, unwarranted targeting of a colleague over a considerable period of time.
“The matters proved were consecutive, occurred over six months, as time went by deepening in spitefulness, and consequently the words and acts achieving the increasingly chilling effect upon the victim which Mr Dunne intended”.
Frost, the panel felt, was a “truthful, careful and compelling witness” whose “account of her treatment … was clear, consistent, credible and unshaken by cross examination.” Dunne, by contrast, was found to be “an unreliable witness”, and “the sweep of his denials, criticisms and reasoning meant that his evidence was unbalanced and at times, difficult to follow.” The panel also rejected Dunne’s “specific criticism of Ms Frost’s riding”, adding that “even if there was force in that criticism this would not justify his conduct in any of the incidents we considered”.
The panel also highlights the extent to which its members believed other jockeys and weighing room staff allowed Dunne’s actions to go unchallenged. “We reminded ourselves, in his favour,” it says, “that some at least of the facts found involved Mr Dunne operating within a culture approbated by his peers. Observers observed without intervention. If this is the weighing room culture, then it is out of step in equal opportunity race-riding.”
In particular, the panel highlights evidence given by Frost and Dunne’s fellow riders concerning incidents of verbal abuse at Stratford and Southwell in July and September 2021 respectively.
At Stratford, the panel heard what it described as “compelling evidence” from a fence attendant that Dunne had unleashed a “barrage” of abuse at Frost shortly after a race, and that he was “shocked at the nature and ferocity” of the insults used. However, the riders Adam Wedge and Lorcan Murtagh, who were closer to the incident than the witness, said in statements to the hearing that they had heard “nothing out of the ordinary”.
Similar statements from riders including Tom Scudamore, who suggested that a confrontation at Southwell in which Dunne threatened to “put [Frost] through a wing [of a fence]” was “no different from what he would see or hear every third day” were also addressed.
“None regarded the altercation as other than the traditional workings of the weighing room,” the panel say. “The evidence that other senior jockeys of standing heard nothing over and above a regular spat … concerned us.”
In a postscript to its finding, the panel says that it “had to consider the culture, as it was often described, amongst the community of professional jockeys or in the weighing room”. It concludes: “As these reasons show, we had some concerns about it.. Our role was to inquire into the conduct of Mr Dunne. It is for others to reflect upon more general matters. We confine ourselves to recording our concern arising out of the specific facts of this particular case.”