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Helen Sheridan

Counsel for the BHA did not describe the weighing room as rancid - here's why

The law is a detailed sport, which has never fitted neatly into the confines of limited column inches - an observation reinforced this week in the disciplinary hearing involving Bryony Frost and Robbie Dunne.

While the racing media reported the case as it proceeded and was strong on matters of evidence, the necessary selective quotation at the end of a no doubt long gig left closing arguments bereft of the subtlety and punch and counterpunch which is the hallmark of legal argument.

Why does any of this matter to anyone apart from legal purists? Alas, lurking within the closing arguments of Louis Weston, counsel for the BHA, was one word which will forever be associated with the case: rancid.

The belief that Weston described the culture of the weighing room as 'rancid' has taken root like Japanese knotweed within racing, and everywhere else it seems, causing upset so severe to the denizens of the inner sanctum and its union, the Professional Jockeys' Association, that it trumped the need for any expression of sympathy towards the actual victim, Frost.

One of the accepted wisdoms of punting and probably life is to never be afraid to zig when others zag. So, I'm going to suggest that Weston did not describe the current weighing room as 'rancid' and here's why.

The logical first port of call is to take a closer look at the entire paragraph containing that submission:

"If there is a weighing-room culture that allows jockeys to threaten serious injury to another or their horse, to call another a whore, a slut and a slag, then that culture is sour, rancid and one that we say should be thrown out and discarded. It’s time, if it ever had its time, has gone."

For a real understanding of the above, it is important to identify the two most important words at play: if and then. This marks Weston's submission out as a conditional statement - if x, then y, which does not equate to saying y alone. In this word equation, y is 'rancid'. So what is the x factor - the first part of the condition?

For this, we have to revisit the defence of Roderick Moore, counsel for Dunne. No doubt Moore faced a difficult task with the strength of the evidence presented by the BHA. As a consequence, the main thrust of his argument invited the Panel to consider matters in quite a unique way, which I like to call a Scumbag Hail Mary.

In order to normalise the evidence, and render Dunne not guilty, Moore concentrated upon the standard of behaviour by which the case should be judged - that of the weighing room in general, and not of society as a whole. However, in order to hide the damning evidence amongst the weighing room, the jockeys, of necessity, had to be pitched at an incredibly low level by Moore (instructed by the PJA and assisted by the jockeys themselves).

Returning to the word algebra and 'if x, then rancid'. The x is Moore's Scumbag Hail Mary. It is the turning of the damning evidence into another day at the office. Weston says nothing more here than 'if that's a day at the office, then the office is rancid'. It is an invitation to the Panel to consider the 'if', to view Dunne's actions as not in the normal run of things. In reverse, if Dunne is found not guilty, then jockeys really are the scum that counsel for Dunne made them out to be, operating well below the norms of society.

What it was not was a targeted description of the current weighing room. In no sense has it directly been described as 'rancid'. It could only be so in Weston's construct if Robbie Dunne had been found not guilty. He was not.

As is obvious from the post-ruling snippets, the subtleties of her own counsel's legal argument were beyond the compass of BHA chief Julie Harrington and most with ringside seats or vested interests. In a bizarre sense, given all the indignation of the past couple of days, it was in fact counsel for the BHA that was trying to raise the weighing room up all along.


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