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Jockey Robbie Dunne saw himself as enforcer of outdated sexist traditions in racing, hearing told

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Robbie Dunne is set to learn the outcome of his disciplinary hearing into claims he bullied Bryony Frost on Thursday, after a panel was told racing should not tolerate female riders ‘getting called a whore at work’. 

Dunne is charged with bullying, harassing and threatening his rival, a successful female jump jockey, at three races last year.

A hearing in front of a three-person panel has taken place over five days in London and the verdict, which could have major ramifications for the sport, is expected by noon on Thursday. If Dunne is found guilty of some of the more serious charges, he faces a lengthy ban from riding. 

At the heart of the case is what was said by Dunne to Frost at meets held at Uttoxeter, Stratford and Southwell.

However, the culture of racing, which prides itself on being a sport where men and women can compete on equal terms, is very much on trial, too.

Acting for the BHA, barrister Louis Weston, described a weighing room culture in which Dunne’s alleged lewd behaviour, threats and sexual slurs towards Frost were considered normal and acceptable.

Robbie Dunne, racing at Newbury in January, is accused of intimidating Bryony Frost

Robbie Dunne, racing at Newbury in January, is accused of intimidating Bryony Frost

‘It cannot be that Miss Frost should be allowed to compete on a race course on a level playing field only to find that when she comes back to the weighing room she is met by Mr Dunne,’ said Weston.

‘[He is] acting out a role as the head of some patriarch re-enacting the social attitudes of the 1950s in his capacity as self-appointed enforcer of traditions, he perceives to be put in place in the weighing room. Just unacceptable… by some distance.’

The BHA claims that the culture allowed Dunne to pursue a ‘vendetta’ against Frost dating back to 2017, which eventually escalated into aggressive sexist abuse and threats to harm the female jockey by putting her through a fence.

It is claimed that in the changing room, a space which is often shared by men and women at antiquated race courses, Dunne dropped his towel and ‘waggled himself in front’ of Frost, feigned sex acts and would make sexually charged remarks about ‘how he would give women jockeys a ride’.

Dunne (pictured) has been charged with verbally abusing and threatening Bryony Frost

Frost claimed that she was bullied and harassed by her fellow jockey

Robbie Dunne (L) has been charged with verbally abusing and threatening Bryony Frost (R) 

These claims were denied by Dunne and his barrister during the course of the week-long hearing, but Weston insisted: ‘It is 1950s humour. Carry on Up the Riding Clubs type thing, let’s make jokes about women. Unacceptable.’

RULE BREACHES?

Jockey Robbie Dunne denies all but one of the six charges laid against him by the British Horse Racing Authority.

The jockey is accused of breaching two British Horseracing Authority rules in relation to each event at Uttoxeter, Stratford and Southwell.

Under rule J19 it is alleged he displayed ‘conduct prejudicial to’ the sport by ‘bullying and harassing’ a fellow jockey. He denies all three of these charges.

Under rule J20 it is claimed he was ‘acting in a violent or improper manner’ by abusing another rider. Dunne only accepts allegations in relation to Southwell.

If Dunne is found to have breached the rules, he could face a fine and a ban from competing.

The range of punishment for breaking Rule 19, acting in a way that is prejudicial to horse racing, is a fine of between £1,000 and £15,000 and a ban from one month to three years.

For breaching Rule 20, by acting in a violent of improper manner, the punishment is a ban up to 21 days and a fine of between £100 and £5,000.

The BHA say that Dunne mocked and bullied Frost over a long period before the remarks became more threatening last year.

Dunne, the hearing was told, had formed the view that Frost’s riding endangered him and others and he needed to teach her how to behave.

At various races it is alleged Dunne called his more successful rival a ‘f****** slag’, dangerous ‘f****** whore’ and a ‘dangerous c***’ as he took the younger rider to task. It is language Dunne denies using.

At Stratford on July 8, it is claimed Dunne felt he had been cut up on the course by Frost – an act described as ‘murder’ in National Hunt racing.

As the riders pulled up after the race, it is alleged Dunne told Frost: ‘You’re a fucking whore… and if you ever fucking murder me like that again, I’ll murder you.’

However, the feud came to a head on September 3 last year at Southwell when Dunne’s mount, Cillian’s Well, fell and died in the race and the male jockey held Frost responsible.

In the weighing room, Dunne told Frost what he thought of her riding and said he would ‘put her through a wing [fence]’.

In her evidence, Frost said Dunne threatened her coolly and she believed he intended to hurt her.

‘He promised he would hurt me and I believed him,’ she said. ‘He said it to me in such a way I believed him.’

Dunne accepts he used the phrase ‘put you through a wing’ but as a rebuke, not a threat, and he never ‘promised’ to hurt Frost.

The case has split jockeys in jump racing. A number of female riders claimed they did not recognise Frost’s descriptions of the weighing room culture and male jockeys lined up to say they heard nothing out of the ordinary in what Dunne said to Frost at Southwell given the circumstances.

But Weston praised Frost for breaking ranks and standing up to Dunne and the closed culture of the sport.

A BHA  report included claims from Frost that ill-feeling between her and Dunne stretched back to before 2017

A BHA  report included claims from Frost that ill-feeling between her and Dunne stretched back to before 2017

How the saga has unfolded 

September 2020: Bryony Frost complains to the BHA about her alleged treatment by Robbie Dunne.

December 26: Frost talks about negativity in the weighing room after her King George VI Chase win on Frodon.

January 12, 2021: Details emerge of an angry exchange involving Frost and Dunne after his mount Cillian’s Well fell fatally at Southwell on September 3.

January 24: Racemail reveals Frost’s concern about her treatment goes back to June 2019, when she was involved in a verbal incident with trainer Johnny Farrelly at Uttoxeter.

April: BHA head of integrity Chris Watts completes his 120-page report into Frost’s allegations, with Dunne told he will be charged.

October 17: Watts’ leaked report appears in a Sunday newspaper. It details Frost’s statement with allegations of problems with Dunne back to 2017 and threats he had allegedly made against her. Dunne’s legal team accuse the BHA of losing control of the investigation.

November 24: Dunne is charged with bullying and harassing a fellow jockey on three race days in 2020. 

‘It is very clear that Miss Frost knew that stepping up and confronting Robbie Dunne as she did, she would run the risk against the grain of her profession being ostracised and excluded and she has been.

Frost is the most successful British female jump jockey

Frost is the most successful British female jump jockey

‘Jockeys not talking to her and valets saying they will not work for her any more. It is outrageous that they behave in that way because she had the guts to stand up to a bully. I deprecate it in the strongest terms.

‘She knew it was coming yet was still was prepared to put her head above the parapet. She would not have done all of that to pursue some fabrication she had made up against Robbie Dunne. She has done it because she has had enough of how he had been behaving for a period of time and no one else was helping her or protecting her.’

However, in defending Dunne, his barrister, Roderick Moore, not only challenged the facts of what was said at Stratford, Uttoxeter and Southwell, but mounted a passionate defence of the weighing roomand racing, itself.

‘If you and your colleagues are going to get to the right answer it is essential to understand the weighing room,’ Moore told the BHA disciplinary panel, chaired by Brian Barker QC.

Jockey Tom Scudamore did not consider anything he heard between Dunne and Frost to be out of the ordinary

Jockey Tom Scudamore did not consider anything he heard between Dunne and Frost to be out of the ordinary

‘It is a dangerous sport; they have to tell each other if they think there is a danger including if it is the way one of their colleagues is riding.’

Moore said that sometimes involves ‘coarse and profane language’.

‘What would be grossly unfair would be to make judgements about Mr Dunne against a scenario that is not the real one but simply one the BHA aspires [to], or thinks would be a better one,’ insisted Moore. ‘I am not saying improvements need to be made. I am not saying there is a problem.’

Moore highlighted witnesses, male and female jockeys, who asserted that the weighing room does not need to change.

The barrister said if that if it does, ‘it is for the future, it is a policy matter’.

‘You cannot fairly judge Mr Dunne against anything other than the present weighing room,’ said Moore, who referred to the support of prominent jockeys, who said the expression ‘I’ll put you through a wing’ is a common phrase in jump racing.

‘It was a rebuke, it was not a threat,’ said Moore. ‘[Dunne] has massive evidential support because that is also how it was seen by [jockeys, Tom] Scudamore, Nico de Boinville, Paul O’Brien, Richard Johnson, the valets and so on.’

Frost, pictured racing at Huntingdon earlier this month, was reduced to tears in weighing rooms, it is claimed

Frost, pictured racing at Huntingdon earlier this month, was reduced to tears in weighing rooms, it is claimed

Moore questioned the credibility of Frost’s evidence, drawing attention to female jockeys who gave a ‘different flavour’ of the weighing room, who also described Dunne as ‘supportive and respectful’.

And he said it was difficult to reconcile Frost’s alleged fear of Dunne given ‘she spends as much time as she does in the male area of the weighing room’, which he said was unnecessary because other witnesses had said valets (who help a rider prepare for a race) will go to them.

In closing his argument, Moore claimed Frost had overreacted to Dunne’s comments.

‘Ms Frost did not take well to criticism,’ he said, highlighting incidents where she had reacted emotionally in other situations.

‘We say that goes into the mix when you consider her reaction to Mr Dunne as he would say ‘calling her out’ after the Southwell fall.’

The BHA independent panel is due to give its decision in the case on Thursday. If Dunne is found in breach of rule J19 — conduct prejudicial to the good reputation of racing — he could be suspended for as long as three years.

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