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Bullying and harassment: perception precedes reality

Sinclair Robbie
Robbie Sinclair



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01 April 2022

As a huge horseracing fan and employment lawyer, I was extremely disappointed this week to read some of the details surrounding the appeal of the jockey, Robbie Dunne.

His 18-month racing ban was reduced to ten for the bullying of female jockey, Bryony Frost, and his four counts of misconduct, which were classified as being prejudicial to the integrity, proper conduct or good reputation of horseracing, were adjusted to one overarching breach. My disappointment is not at the outcome – as the reasons haven’t been published yet – it is because for many commentators and fans, there is a strong perception that justice has not been done. 

Where does this perception come from? Sporting Life journalist, Lydia Hislop, wrote that it was evident from the first 20 minutes of the hearing that “these proceedings would be conducted in a tone inappropriate to the matter at hand, actively undermining the perception of the justice they endeavoured to pursue”.  Process, tone and language are critical to investigations, hearings and appeals as they are the building blocks of perception. If these are not in order, then whether the outcome is justified or not, there will always be a perception that it was biased, unfair or plainly wrong.

For starters, the appeal panel comprised three men which, in today’s world, I found utterly bizarre. Including one woman, at least, could have bought a different perspective to the discussions. We always advise in sensitive cases of this nature that the choice of investigator, decision-maker, panel or appeal hearer is very important and needs to be perceived as fair to all parties. Language and tone of questioning are equally important – and the language used during this hearing fell short of the mark. For example, Bryony Frost’s distress and fear was remarked as her being “obviously moved to emotion quite quickly”. Stereotypes like this are never helpful and only serve to highlight an outmoded culture which does not respect diversity, equity and inclusion.

As Andy Warhol famously said, “perception precedes reality”. In today’s world where information and opinions are shared in seconds, it pays dividends to think carefully about how process will be perceived. Otherwise it will become the received reality, as is the case with Robbie Dunne’s appeal.

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