Former BHA board member Gunn concerned over interventions in Harman case

Former BHA director Ben Gunn has expressed concerns over the intervention of government minister Matt Hancock and leading racing figures during the recent disciplinary process involving BHA chairman Steve Harman.

Harman is leaving his role several months early in November following the recent events at the BHA, which centred on accusations he had a conflict of interest over his contact with Alex Frost, the chief executive of the Alizeti consortium that is investing in the Tote, at the Cheltenham Festival in March.

The BHA board had been discussing whether Harman had brought the body into disrepute under article 51 of its articles of association, but that was "set aside" by the governing body, whose review also found there had been no conflict of interest.

However, Harman apologised for "inaccuracies" in his initial explanations about the meetings to the board.

When news of the BHA action broke, leading figures in the sport such as trainers John Gosden and William Haggas voiced their support for Harman.

Even culture secretary Matt Hancock became involved, describing Harman as a "man of integrity" in a letter to the chairman, which was later published, and emphasising that he hoped to work with Harman "for a long time to come".

Gunn, a former chief constable of Cambridgeshire, served on the BHA board as an independent regulatory director of the BHA from 2007 until 2015.

He said: "My concern is the timing of what was said by the likes of John Gosden and William Haggas and those that people look up to in this industry during the course and process of a disciplinary proceedings.

"That troubled me and the comments and letter of Matt Hancock really do trouble me. Whoever advised him that was a prudent action to take in the middle of disciplinary proceedings I really don't know."

Gunn said he remained concerned that recent events may create issues for the disciplinary processes of independent sports bodies in the future and that, while the interventions were well meant, they should not have been made.

"Whatever the circumstances of the specific complaint or allegation against the chairman, the BHA has a duty fully to investigate the matters fairly, proportionately and in accordance with the rules of the authority," he said.

"Whatever the motives of those who support Steve Harman, their interventions could be misconstrued as seeking to interfere with that due process or, at very least, influence public opinion on the outcome.

"The chairman was entitled to a fair hearing unencumbered by mistimed and misguided efforts of support."

It is understood that the recent investigation is not the first time that Harman has found himself at loggerheads with BHA board members.

In November 2014, a month before five members of the current board were appointed, the then members of the BHA board held a meeting with Harman to discuss concerns some held about aspects of his chairmanship. However, on that occasion the matter was not taken further.

The BHA did not wish to comment.

Harman is set to head an industry-wide effort to work with government to find a way of mitigating the multi-million-pound loss of income the sport could suffer from large-scale betting shop closures caused by the government's decision to cut FOBT stakes to £2.