Monday 17 June 2019

Hughie Morrison 'over the moon' after BHA disciplinary panel rule nandrolone was administered to horse by 'persons unknown'

Our Little Sister (second right) racing at Wolverhampton in January. Inset, Hughie Morrison
Our Little Sister (second right) racing at Wolverhampton in January. Inset, Hughie Morrison

Trainer Hughie Morrison has been handed the minimum fine of £1,000 and ruled not to blame by an independent disciplinary panel of the British Horseracing Authority after one of his horses failed a drugs test at the start of the year.

Morrison attended a two-day hearing at BHA headquarters in London earlier this week, with Our Little Sister having tested positive for the banned substance nandrolone following a race at Wolverhampton on January 14.

East Ilsley-based Morrison, 57, vehemently denied any wrongdoing and offered a £10,000 cash reward for anyone that could help prove his innocence after the charges were first announced in May.

On the disciplinary panel verdict, Morrison told Press Association Sport: "I can't really comment as I don't want to say the wrong thing and there will be a statement.

"However, we're obviously over the moon. There's no ban, we've been completely exonerated so the hell of the last 11 months can be forgotten.

"All my staff are having a celebration now and it's very emotional."

Our Little Sister returned a positive test after she finished last of eight runners in an extended two-mile handicap, in which she was sent off at odds of 12-1.

She raced once more, when down the field at Southwell 12 days later, and has since been retired. That was her third run that month, having finished fourth there on January 2.

The disciplinary panel said in its reasoning: "In the light of the finding that Mr Morrison was not involved in the administration, would it be right to disqualify him? The guide does indeed give that recommendation, and the panel can see why a trainer might suffer that sanction simply because the use of 'prohibited at all times' drugs like steroids occurs on his watch as the responsible person.

"There might be cases where a panel is left in real doubt as to whether the trainer was involved in this. Then, it might be said, a discretion to impose a penalty of disqualification is justified unless the trainer positively satisfies the panel that he was not involved. But that is not this case. The panel decided that Mr Morrison was not involved.

"There is no suggestion that his security precautions and practices were so lax that he bears responsibility in that sense. On the contrary, the evidence showed his security practices were adequate and found to be adequate from time to time by BHA stable inspections."

It went on: "The entry point in such cases is £1,000. The panel did indeed consider whether in the light of its findings it should impose just a nominal penalty on Mr Morrison of, say, £1.

"But it felt that at the end of the day it was right to impose the entry level penalty referred to of £1,000.

"Though this may be an area ripe for reconsideration, the panel can see that there is a reason to impose fines of that substance, even in cases where trainers may demonstrate a lack of fault. Such fines can act as a practical encouragement to try to explain exactly how positive samples have been produced."

The independent disciplinary panel concluded that the nandrolone was administered intentionally "by person or persons unknown, for unknown reasons".

The panel also suggested that Our Little Sister may have been given the banned substance "to target Mr Morrison, but even that remains speculative".

Jamie Stier, chief regulatory officer for the BHA, said: "Racing is based on fair play and respect for the rules. That's how we earn the trust and confidence of the participants and all those who watch or bet on our sport, without whom there would be no racing industry.

"British racing has a zero tolerance policy towards the use of anabolic steroids, which are proven to help performance in sport. We must have a level playing field with integrity. We must protect the welfare of our animals.

"The rules are clear that it is the trainer's responsibility to prevent horses taking part in our sport with prohibited substances in their system. It is important, therefore, that the trainer in this case has accepted he was in breach of the rules of racing, and that the disciplinary panel has confirmed that, as the responsible person, Mr Morrison is in breach of the rules.

"As was set out in our opening submissions, the BHA had no positive case to put to any individual witness because the BHA could not say who administered the anabolic steroid to the horse. However, it was the BHA's case that Mr Morrison's assertion that this was a malicious act by someone completely outside of his control is unlikely. It was not the BHA's case that the administration of the substance 'must have been done by Mr Morrison or somebody at his direction'.

"We respect the panel's decision, the rules of racing have been upheld and the matter of penalty is a matter wholly for the disciplinary panel to determine."

He added: "The panel also confirmed that the BHA 'properly ran the case'. They found that it was not the duty of the BHA to protect Mr Morrison, that the attacks on the adequacy and good faith of the BHA's investigation 'wholly failed' and, with one exception, criticism of the BHA's conduct was misplaced.

"The one exception related to the fact that a hair sample was not taken. We would like to take the opportunity to explain more fully why this was the case. The BHA has always said that we would not use hair sampling as primary evidence until such point as there is international agreement and also full accreditation.

"Until that happens, hair samples are not accepted as regulatory samples, which limits our ability to use them in disciplinary cases. Therefore, it would not have been appropriate for the BHA to rely on hair sampling as part of its evidence in this case. Had we done so, it would have been open to challenge.

"We now await the panel's full written reasons before we can comment further on this matter."

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