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
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.
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.