INCREASED THREAT OF CRIMINAL RECORD FOR WHIP ABUSE
Racing Post Report by Rodney Masters - 20th May 2008
BRITAIN'S jockeys have been handed a stark warning by a leading official from the BHA that they “need toget their act together” over use of the whip or face the risk of a criminal prosecution under the Animal Welfare Act.
The red-alert came from Tony Goodhew, the BHA's director of licensing and standards, at a jockeys' seminar during the Dante meeting at York last week.
Goodhew explained to riders that animal rights groups could decide to bring a prosecution against a rider who had flouted the whip regulations by utilising the Animal Welfare Act, which came into force last year.
“It's something the jockeys must be aware of, and I did warn them of the situation at the seminar,” said Goodhew.
“The BHA is in talks with both the government and the RSCPA over the issue, but the jockeys must do their part and do need to get their act together over the whip.”
From once being a distant prospect, the threat of prosecution by animal welfare supporters has drawn alarmingly close for the BHA, to the point where Goodhew was despatched with his blunt message.
The fear of a test case prosecution heightened last December, when police responded to a request from Animal Aid to investigate Eddie Ahern's ride on Marsam at Southwell.
Ahern hit the horse up to 20 times in the last two furlongs, raising weals on the skin, and, under BHA rules, was banned for three months.
Detective chief superintendent Neil James, from the Nottinghamshire force, met with BHA officials in London to be briefed on racing's disciplinary procedures, but there was no further action in the courts.
The Animal Welfare Act introduced a welfare offence that places a ‘duty of care' on jockeys, as well as owners, trainers and the BHA, to ensure that horses are not abused.
Previously, a prosecution occurred only in cases where an animal had been caused unnecessary suffering.
David Muir, the RSPCA's equine consultant, said: “Like anyone else, jockeys aren't above the law.
“If you use the example of football, if a player commits a foul it is dealt with by the Football Association but if a player runs across the field and punches somebody on the nose, he would be dealt with by the police.
“If a jockey behaves so unreasonably with a horse he causes it unnecessary suffering, then it doesn't preclude anybody, whether it is the RSPCA or the police, to prosecute.
“Yes, it is something that could happen, but to stop it happening the three bodies, the BHA, PJA and RSPCA, are working together to ensure it doesn't get to that stage.”
Muir added: “We are talking about a small minority of jockeys who go to these lengths, but that minority brings the whole of racing into disrepute, and it's one of the things the public detest.”
Josh Apiafi, chief executive of the Professional Jockeys' Association, said he was also aware of the dangers of a criminal prosecution.
“The BHA did a lot of work to stop the Nottingham police taking action in the Eddie Ahern case and basically got told to address the situation, and fast, because of the increase in whip offences,” said Apiafi.
“While there has been an increase, they were all one or two days, and not Eddie Ahern-type incidents.
“The BHA told us as soon as the police wanted to get involved, and the main reason for the recent jockeys' seminars is to explain the situation – and the number of offences is coming down.”
Rory Mac Neice, a former jockey and now partner in and head of sports law for legal firm Ashfords, stated last night that the need for self-regulation by racing was an urgent one.
He said: “I believe it would need to be a very extreme example of abuse for a jockey to be prosecuted and I've never come across such an example.
“In my opinion, it is vital that racing continues to be self-regulating as, should that be removed, regulation would be done by a third party, and that would not be good for the sport.
“Therefore, it is important for the PJA and the BHA to work together to ensure there is consistency and confidence in the application of the whip rules, so that jockeys and stewards know the way the whip is used.”