Paul Struthers, the chief executive of the Professional Jockeys’ Association (PJA), has accepted that Bryony Frost was bullied by fellow rider Robbie Dunne, and that the organisation was wrong to say she only “felt” bullied in previous statements.
Dunne was banned for 18 months, with three months suspended, after a high-profile British Horseracing Authority disciplinary hearing concluded on Thursday. An independent panel found he had bullied and harassed Frost, engaging in conduct on the track, in the weighing room and online that was prejudicial to the integrity, proper conduct and good reputation of horse racing.
The PJA statement issued following that verdict criticised both the BHA investigation and the panel, while expressing sympathy that Frost “felt” bullied – a statement Struthers acknowledged to be wrong in an appearance on Racing TV’s Luck On Sunday programme.
“Yes, we do accept the disciplinary panel’s judgement on that and their decision that she was [bullied],” Struthers said. “These are really unique circumstances, it’s the first time we’ve had a case like this involving bullying allegations pitting one member against another. We have a job to support both and we had one member making very serious allegations and another maintaining their innocence of all bar one of them.”
“We were trying to find the words that walked that tightrope and we understand why it has caused the issues that it has,” Struthers added. “We want to make clear that we do accept the disciplinary panel’s finding that Bryony was bullied, and the language used was deeply and grossly inappropriate.”
In Thursday’s statement the PJA said Dunne had been subjected to a process that was not “remotely fair”, having called on the BHA to bring the case to a close in October, claiming a fair hearing would be “impossible” after details of the report were leaked to a newspaper.
Struthers now concedes the initial insistence the case be dropped could have been a mistake, but insisted that the process itself needs further scrutiny. “Maybe it was an error and it would certainly have made life easier had we not made that call. I think there are things about the process, in particular in this case, but I think it is an issue we have had for some time.
“I think undoubtedly the panel conducted a process that was as fair as it could be,” Struthers told presenter Nick Luck. “The problem we have – and I know this is unpopular – is we don’t think the whole process is fair. Regardless of that, we do accept the panel’s verdict.”
Struthers also accepted that his organisation has lost Frost’s trust after the jockey took her complaints to the BHA. “There clearly wasn’t that trust there between the PJA and Bryony,” he said. “We need to reflect on that, we will need to learn from that. We don’t criticise Bryony in the slightest for going to the BHA – that is absolutely someone’s right.”
Tim Naylor, the BHA’s director of integrity and direction, also appeared on the programme and praised Struthers for his admission. “Paul has said this morning that Bryony was bullied and that’s an important first step. It’s an important step to reach out to Bryony, and for the PJA and BHA to learn from this experience.”
“That’s the important thing now, we’ve had a incredibly important case for racing, it was right that it was heard, it was right that it was heard publicly,” Naylor added. “There can’t be any suggestion of racing hiding away from these issues, of trying to bury them under the carpet. That hasn’t happened, we’ve met them head on.”