Morrison escapes ban as panel fines trainer £1,000 in high-profile doping case
UK trainer Hughie Morrison has avoided a ban in a landmark case that has left the BHA's zero-tolerance anti-doping rules undermined and under scrutiny.
At the conclusion of the case, which centred around the filly Our Little Sister testing positive for the steroid nandrolone after finishing last at Wolverhampton on January 14, Morrison was fined £1,000 by the sport's independent disciplinary panel.
The result represents a significant defeat for the BHA, which had argued the principle of strict liability meant trainers are responsible for the positive tests of horses in their care, regardless of proven involvement.
While the panel backed that principle by levying a fine, it represented a far more lenient penalty than BHA guidelines suggest should be applied in cases involving steroids. Theoretically Morrison faced a disqualification of between one and ten years.
Morrison has always maintained his innocence. He suggested he had been the victim of a malicious outsider and offered a £10,000 reward for information pointing towards the culprit.
He said: "I'm delighted the disciplinary panel has concluded I was not involved in any way with the administration of this steroid.
"I cannot overstate the stress that has been caused by this long-running case for me, my wife, all my staff and connections, and the relief now felt having been rightly and so comprehensively exonerated."
Morrison, who thanked his family, staff and lawyers, added: "The culprit who injected the filly is still out there so everyone needs to be on their guard."
In a first summary of its findings, the panel revealed it agreed with both sides that nandrolone had been administered intentionally. As such, it concluded a penalty had to be imposed but it chose to use its discretionary power to act outside of the normal instruction to impose a disqualification.
The panel reported "on the balance of probabilities" it believed Morrison innocent of any involvement and even considered imposing a nominal fine of £1.
However, it also described the defence's suggestion trainer Imogen Pickard could have been involved as "ludicrous", stating: "This episode shows a disturbing lack of judgement on Mr Morrison’s part."
The panel also argued almost all Morrison's criticism of the BHA was "misplaced", and said: "Though the panel has eventually concluded he was innocent, the BHA properly ran the case that he was responsible. The BHA’s duty to Mr Morrison was a duty to act fairly, and everything the panel has seen indicates they did so."
Outgoing chief regulatory officer Jamie Stier, who recently announced the BHA's intention to reword anti-doping rules after a previous disciplinary setback, said: "British racing has a zero-tolerance policy towards the use of anabolic steroids, which are proven to help performance in sport. We must have a level playing field with integrity.
"The rules are clear that it's the trainer’s responsibility to prevent horses taking part in our sport with prohibited substances in their system.
"It is important, therefore, that the trainer in this case has accepted he was in breach of the rules of racing, and that the disciplinary panel has confirmed that, as the responsible person, Mr Morrison is in breach of the rules.”
The National Trainers Federation issued a statement on Friday calling on the BHA to "review aspects of its management of anti-doping regulation".
It read: "This and other cases involving prohibited substances have left trainers feeling very vulnerable.
"We are pleased that the disciplinary panel, while having regard to the requirement for strict liability, is taking a broader view of the issues and not accepting without question the arguments run by the BHA’s legal team.”
Roderick Moore, the barrister who successfully argued Philip Hobbs should not be penalised in another high-profile case last month, said: “Jamie Stier said after the Hobbs case he wanted the rules to be rewritten.
"I hope they will sit down with the NTF and ROA and people like me and talk through the issues.
"If they press on with their usual zealotry they will have a mutiny on their hands. They’ve been knocked back two times and set themselves up for failure."
Horsemen's Group chairman Philip Freedman said: "I’m sure the fact that every other horse in the [Morrison] yard tested clear had a significant impact on the penalty.
“If we had a case where the trainer was giving medication then the outcome would be very different. The rules would still enable a very significant deterrent sentence.
“The trainer is legally responsible, but no trainer in their right mind would think you can start giving illegal substances.”