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Racing's reputation tarnished despite prosecution's incompetence 07/12/2007
Chris Cook

The collapse of the case against Kieren Fallon comes as no surprise to those who have followed the trial's progress. From the beginning, Jonathan Caplan QC for the Crown admitted that there were gaps in the prosecution case and it is now clear that the charge of conspiracy to defraud should never have been brought against the six-times champion jockey.

The fundamental problem was a total failure on the part of the police and the Crown Prosecution Service to get to grips with the complexities of either racing or gambling. Inexcusably, this was a repeat of a similar failure just seven years ago, when a judge at Southwark Crown Court ruled that five men charged with conspiring to dope horses also had no case to answer. In that case, one of the investigating officers admitted that he was "a bit green" about gambling. This time, acting detective inspector Mark Manning had to make a similar concession in court. Surely it would not have been beyond the City Of London police to have found a single officer from within its ranks who had at least seen the inside of a betting shop.

Manning began his investigation by visiting the offices of Betfair, the company through which the bets involved in the case were made. He was told that Fallon's fellow defendant Miles Rodgers had risked a total of £2m, but Manning misunderstood and left with the belief that Rodgers had made a net profit of that amount. By the time the trial opened more than three years later, it had become clear that Rodgers had made a net loss of over £250,000 on the races concerned.

The prosecution never offered any evidence, circumstantial or otherwise, that Fallon might have agreed to prevent any of his mounts from winning. Observers waited in mounting astonishment as it became clear that no such evidence had ever existed and that the jury were being asked to rely entirely on the suspicions of Ray Murrihy, a senior Australian steward presented by the Crown as an expert witness.

It is possible to have a certain amount of sympathy for Murrihy, who should never have agreed to take part. Lacking any detailed knowledge of British racing, which differs in many respects from the Australian version, he made himself look foolish by failing to concede this weakness. But his justification for asking questions even of jockeys who have won a race ("I think the betting public would like to know the answer," he told the court) is very appealing to those familiar with the more deferential system in Britain.

Racing in this country is such a small world that one can understand why the Crown felt an outside witness was needed, but failing to ensure that Murrihy familiarised himself with the sport here was a ghastly error that ensured the trial's collapse.

The fallout will be bitter for the British Horseracing Authority, who are on their way to losing the confidence of racing professionals. The trainer Alan Jarvis, who gave evidence in support of Fallon, told me today that the trial has done "untold harm" to the image of British racing at a time when two of the sport's most prestigious contests, the Derby and the King George at Ascot, are looking for new sponsors.

For punters whose faith in the game's integrity may have been shaken, he had a simple message - "In my experience, jockeys and trainers just want to win races," he said.

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