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Last Updated: Friday, 7 December 2007, 12:21 GMT
Was race-fixing investigation flawed?
By Chris Summers
BBC News, Old Bailey

Former champion jockey Kieren Fallon, two other riders and three other people have been cleared of race-fixing. What led to the collapse of the Old Bailey trial?

Fallon race
Mr Fallon admitted making a mistake by easing up on Ballinger Ridge

Horse racing is all about opinions.

Every jockey, trainer, owner and armchair punter will have his or her opinion about the chances of the horses they ride, train, own or bet on.

The crucial flaw in the City of London Police's investigation into race-fixing, codenamed Operation Krypton, was that they took only one expert's opinion into account.

Everyone in court agreed the prosecution's star witness, Ray Murrihy, was one of Australia's top racing stewards and an expert on racing down under.

Mr Murrihy was asked by the police for his opinion on the performance of three jockeys in 27 races between December 2002 and August 2004.

Different racing culture

But Mr Murrihy, who found fault with the jockeys in 13 of the races, admitted during the Old Bailey trial he was not familiar with the rules or culture of British racing.

Jim McGrath, managing director of racing publisher Timeform and presenter of Channel 4's Morning Line programme, was most definitely an expert on British racing.

Mr McGrath was interviewed by acting Det Insp Mark Manning on 28 March 2006 and asked for his opinion about the 27 races that would later form the indictment.

He said he had found little suspicious about the rides and praised the jockeys' performances in several of the races.

But Mr McGrath's opinion was not disclosed to the defence until 4 October 2007, the day the jury were sworn in.

At one point Mr McGrath told Mr Manning: "My feeling is that the rider on the day did absolutely everything I would expect them to do, and on three occasions I said to you I did not think it was just a competent ride, but a good ride."

Kieren Fallon (left) with John Kelsey-Fry QC
Kieren Fallon with his barrister, John Kelsey-Fry QC

Mr Manning replied: "You did, but I'm sure the prosecutor won't ask you to say that."

Mr McGrath responded: "Yes, but I'm sure the defence counsel will."

Earlier this week, the officer in charge of disclosure, Det Con Stephen Gibbs, was criticised under cross-examination.

He said: "I didn't disclose those notes [of the meeting on 28 March] and in hindsight I should have done. Like everyone I am subject to human fragility. Looking at them now in the cold light of day, I would have done."

But the failure to disclose Mr McGrath's comments was just one of a number of flaws in the prosecution case that were highlighted by defence counsel.

Offered a job

Peter Kelson QC, for defendant Miles Rodgers, said Mr Manning's impartiality was in question because he had been offered a job at the British Horseracing Authority.

He also pointed out that despite betting 2.2m on the 27 races, his client had come out with a net loss of 278,000.

Sir Michael Stoute
It was a brilliant ride. She was not helping him
Sir Michael Stoute

The trial also heard from several of the trainers of the 27 horses in question, who had nothing but praise for the jockeys.

Sir Michael Stoute said Mr Fallon rode a "brilliant" race on the Queen's horse Daring Aim at Newmarket, even though it was allegedly supposed to have lost as part of the betting scam.

He said: "It was a brilliant ride. She was not helping him."

He also praised Mr Fallon's riding on a horse called Krynica: "He is squeezing her and encouraging her. It is beautiful horsemanship - and she was not very good."

The only exception was Ballinger Ridge, when Mr Fallon admitted he had made a "howling blunder" by dropping his hands and letting his mount get beaten on the line.

Andrew Balding, the trainer of Ballinger Ridge, said Mr Fallon had been "mortified" after the race.

The jockeys denied throughout they had done anything but ride their horses to the best of their abilities.

They said the phone calls and texts between them and their co-defendants were innocent, mostly involving offering tips and idle chatter and stable gossip.

There is nothing illegal about jockeys passing on tips, nor is it against the rules of the British Horseracing Authority.

Texted Michael Owen

Mr Fallon pointed out in police interviews that he had frequently exchanged texts with Newcastle and England football star Michael Owen, who is a big racing fan.

Mr Fallon said he had no idea any of the information he gave to his friend Philip Sherkle or Shaun Lynch was passed on to Mr Rodgers, a man he did not know.

Defendant Darren Williams's barrister, Jim Sturman QC, highlighted how innocent the texting was when he read out one text from his client to fellow jockey Fergal Lynch: "How's your big blonde bird, you dog?"

Car park of Tiamo restaurant
Police bugged this car park in Penistone, South Yorkshire

There were guffaws around the court but Mr Manning replied, without apparent humour: "That doesn't appear to be part of the conspiracy."

The defence barristers claimed Operation Krypton was a "blinkered" investigation that had its own pre-set agenda - to bring down Mr Fallon and Mr Rodgers.

They said it would not be stopped or deflected by evidence that contradicted their preconceptions that there had been corrupt relationship between Mr Rodgers and various jockeys.

They also highlighted the fact that Mr Manning had misled South Yorkshire Police when applying for permission to plant covert surveillance devices in Mr Rodgers' car and in the car park of his restaurant.

Mr Manning told South Yorkshire Police the conspiracy had involved Mr Rodgers making a profit of 2m, when in fact that figure referred to his total liabilities on Betfair.

Mr Manning told the court it had been an innocent mistake - that he had misunderstood what he had been told by Betfair - and would have made no difference to obtaining the warrant for the bugging devices.

Mr Murrihy's evidence was key to the case but it emerged in court that it was deeply flawed because he admitted he had been judging the three jockeys' rides on the basis of the rules of Australian racing.

In Australia all jockeys in a race are required to ride out to the line whereas in Britain there is a culture of easing horses down at the finish, to avoid winning by large margins and getting the horse penalised by the handicapper.

Opposed Betfair

The defence also made much of Mr Murrihy's well-publicised opposition to Betfair in Australia.

Ray Murrihy
I did not like the betting medium where you could back a horse to lose
Ray Murrihy

Betfair, because it offers the opportunity to people to bet on horses losing as well as winning, has been described by some critics, such as former BBC racing presenter Julian Wilson, as a "cheats' charter".

Mr Murrihy admitted: "I did not like the betting medium where you could back a horse to lose."

He said that as the chief stipendiary steward in New South Wales, he feared betting exchanges threatened the integrity of racing.

But he insisted his views on Betfair did not colour his opinion on the races he was asked to judge.

At the end of the day, serious questions will be asked of both City of London Police and the Crown Prosecution Service as to why they agreed to proceed with a case that was so flawed and had little chance of success.



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