Protecting the Integrity & Reputation of Irish Horseracing

John Hughes (Racing Establishment Employee Card Holder) Referral - 2 February 2012

The Referrals Committee, Mr. Justice Tony Hunt (in the Chair), Peter M. Allen and John McStay met at the Turf Club, The Curragh, Co Kildare on Saturday, 22nd November 2014 to consider the referral of John Hughes (racing establishment employee card holder) by Denis Egan, Chief Executive of the Turf Club, following Mr. Hughes’s guilty plea at Carlow District Court on 3rd October 2013 to the possession of a number of animal remedies including Nitrotain oral paste at Orchard, Leighlinbridge, Co Carlow on 2nd February 2012 and an investigation carried out into the matter by Turf Club Head of Security Christopher Gordon and Deputy Head of Security Declan Buckley.

Prior to the Committee considering any evidence in relation to the matters referred to, Denis Egan brought a number of issues which had arisen to the attention of the Committee. He said that the Stewards of the Governing Bodies had written to Mr. Hughes on 6th November 2014 to inform him that, using their powers under Rule 12, they were proposing to require the Stewards at race meetings to exclude him from all racecourses with effect from 16th November 2014. The letter had asked Mr. Hughes to make any representations he wished the Stewards of the Governing Bodies to consider within seven days and that these representations would be taken into account before a final decision was made. Mr. Egan said this letter also stated that Mr. Hughes would be formally notified in writing of their decision after they considered his representations. The letter said that if an exclusion order was made, it would remain in place until the determination of the disciplinary proceedings against him.

Denis Egan said that he spoke to Mr. Hughes on 10th November 2014 about the letter and also about the Referrals Committee hearing which was planned for 22nd November 2014. He said that Mr. Hughes had indicated that he would not be making any representations to the Stewards of the Governing Bodies and that he would not be fit to attend any hearing. Mr. Hughes said that he would be pleading for leniency and that he would take any punishment “on the chin”. Denis Egan said he suggested to Mr. Hughes that he should get his solicitor to make whatever submissions he felt were relevant on the matter and that these would be considered by the committee.

Subsequent to the conversation with Mr. Hughes, an article appeared in a Sunday newspaper which stated that Mr. Hughes had been barred for life from Irish racecourses by the Turf Club. The article had also been picked up by another newspaper the following day. Denis Egan said that an email was received from Mr. Hughes on 17th November 2014 to say that he would not be attending the Referrals Committee hearing on 22nd November 2014 as he had been certified as being medically unfit to attend by his consultant. The email also stated that Mr. Hughes was not convicted of any offence at Carlow District Court in October 2013. It then referred to the two newspaper articles which stated that a lifelong ban had already been imposed and that this was a “travesty for fair procedure and a blatant disregard for the laws of natural justice and taints the outcome of the proposed meeting”. Denis Egan said that he wrote to Mr. Hughes on 18th November 2014 in response to his email and informed him that no ban had been imposed on him by the Turf Club and that he was being given every opportunity to make whatever representations he wished to either the Stewards of the Governing Bodies and/or the Referrals Committee. The letter also made reference to the fact that Mr. Hughes had indicated on 10th November 2014 that he would be making representations to the Referrals Committee and that it encouraged Mr. Hughes to submit these representations by close of business yesterday. In conclusion the letter reiterated that any decision made would be notified formally to Mr. Hughes before it was made public.

Denis Egan said that a faxed letter had been received yesterday afternoon (21st November 2014) from Mr. Hughes’s legal representatives Poe Kiely Hogan Lanigan. The letter requested a number of matters to be formally noted at today’s hearing namely that: 1. The contents of Mr. Hughes’s email of 17th November 2014 be brought to the attention of the committee. 2. Mr. Hughes is medically unfit to attend the hearing as outlined by way of report already furnished to the Turf Club and that Mr. Hughes is deeply concerned at the result of this hearing apparently already having been decided upon and still further at the reporting of the outcome in the national media. 3. Mr. Hughes is taking legal advice in relation to the articles which refer to him having already received a “life ban” and that if he tried to enter a racecourse he would be “detained and escorted off the premises as an undesirable”. He reserves his position in this regard.

Denis Egan handed copies of all the above correspondence including a copy of the newspaper article to the committee.

In conclusion, Denis Egan stated that neither the Stewards of the Governing Bodies nor any Turf Club committee had considered the matter (other than the Stewards initiating the proposal referred to above) or taken any decision in relation to banning Mr. Hughes from attending racecourses. The Committee members stated individually that they have had no involvement in any matter concerning Mr. Hughes and the first time they became aware of the article was at today’s hearing.

Prior to hearing any oral evidence, the committee noted the introduction and background to the referral which had been prepared by Christopher Gordon and which had been circulated with the papers for the hearing. They further noted that this introduction and background as well as all other relevant papers for the hearing had been sent to Mr. Hughes and his solicitor. They also noted the contents of the letter received from Poe Kiely Hogan Lanigan Solicitors on behalf of Mr. Hughes and the reasons why Mr. Hughes was unable to attend. They noted in particular from Mr. Gordon’s background and introduction that Mr. Hughes had been able to attend race meetings throughout the country since 13th August 2014 and most recently at Punchestown on 29th October 2014. In view of this the committee agreed that the hearing should go ahead in Mr. Hughes’s absence as they decided that if he is fit to attend race meetings, he ought also be fit  to attend the hearing.

Evidence was heard from Louis Reardon and Noel Kelly, veterinary inspectors, Special Investigations Unit of the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine (DAFM), Ms. Ruth Reilly, chemist, State Laboratory, Dr Thomas Barragry, Veterinary Pharmacologist (retired UCD) and Christopher Gordon.

The Committee also considered copies of the Court Order issued by Carlow District Court, a transcript of an interview conducted by Christopher Gordon and Declan Buckley with John Hughes on 9th December 2013, statements from Louis Reardon, Noel Kelly, Ms Ruth Reilly MSc, Christopher Gordon and Declan Buckley.

In his evidence Louis Reardon confirmed what occurred at Carlow District Court. He said that Mr. Hughes had pleaded guilty to possession of a number of unauthorized animal remedies including 6kgs of Nitrotain. Mr. Reardon showed the containers of Nitrotain to the committee which had been seized from Mr. Hughes. He described the quantities seized as “commercial quantities”. He said that Mr. Hughes had imported the product from Australia and paid Aus$263 per container. He estimated that the total quantity of product seized was sufficient for about 1,500 doses.

Noel Kelly, in his evidence, outlined the background to the seizure at Mr. Hughes’s house on 2nd February 2012. He said that he had examined two parcels addressed to Mr. Hughes that Custom’s Officers had detained at Dublin Airport and using his powers as an authorized officer he searched the parcels. He noted that the parcels contained prohibited animal remedies including a number of containers of anabolic steroids and sedatives. He said he arranged to have the parcels delivered on 2nd February 2012 to Mr. Hughes and a warrant was obtained to search Mr. Hughes’s house.  He said both himself and Louis Reardon called to Mr. Hughes’s house at 1.35pm that day accompanied by Gardai and found the two parcels he had examined at Dublin Airport on the previous day. Mr. Hughes was interviewed under caution and answered a number of questions. However he refused to confirm that the questions and answers written down were correct when the statement was read back to him and also refused to sign it. The two parcels containing the prohibited animal remedies were seized.

In her evidence Ms. Ruth Reilly confirmed that the products seized from Mr. Hughes were tested at the State Laboratory. She outlined the processes and controls involved. She confirmed that the product in each container was as labeled. 

In his evidence Dr Thomas Barragry said that Nitrotain is an anabolic steroid. It contains the substance ethylestrenol. It is a very potent anabolic steroid and has many times the potency of testosterone and other synthetic anabolic steroids on muscle development. Nitrotain is unique in that it has a very short half life in the body, and usually cannot be detected in horse’s urine after 48—96 hours post administration. However the anabolic effects on muscle will well outlast this 48—96 hour period. Nitrotain is convenient to use because it does not need to be injected but can be easily given orally in paste form. It is available in paste form for individual oral dosing. It is rapidly and well absorbed from the gut. It is an illegal product in Ireland under the Animal Remedies Act. It is a substance prohibited at all times under the Rules of Racing.

Nitrotain is illegally sourced from jurisdictions where it is lawfully available. Nitrotain is a potent short acting oral anabolic steroid with very low potential for adverse side effects, and a short withdrawal time (providing liver and kidney functions are normal).

In terms of potency, it is highly potent. Nitrotain has an anabolic index of 19, compared to that of Testosterone (1), Stanozolol (3.8), Methandriol (7), and Nandrolone (4).

Nitrotain improves stamina, muscle mass and strength. Nitrotain is supplied in 60g multi-dose paste syringe, 250g paste pot or a 1 kg paste bucket. The recommended dose is 15mg ethylestrenol orally, daily. That is equivalent to 4g paste daily.

In his evidence Christopher Gordon referred to the transcript of the interview with John Hughes on 9th December 2013 and in particular to three parts of the interview where Mr. Hughes refused to answer questions. These related to the Carlow Court Case, the origin of the Nitrotain and why he had the substance and the names of the racehorse trainers he worked for. He said Mr. Hughes claimed that he could not give these names due to client confidentiality under the veterinary code of conduct. He said Mr. Hughes had accepted during the interview that he had pleaded guilty but that the only reason he had pleaded guilty was to “get it over”.

Mr. Gordon outlined the unsuccessful efforts he had made to re-question John Hughes since 19th March 2014 so as to clarify points from the first interview and also in relation to other matters. However he had been unable to do so as Mr. Hughes had not made himself available for a variety of reasons including being medically unfit. Despite this Mr. Hughes’s presence had been noted at a number of race meetings since 13th August 2014. Mr. Gordon said the last time he requested Mr. Hughes to attend for interview was on 31st October 2014. He said he received a letter from Mr. Hughes’s solicitor on 29th October 2014 to seek a deferral of the interview as Mr. Hughes was medically unfit. However Mr. Hughes’s attendance was noted at Punchestown on 29th October 2014. He said that he wrote back to Mr. Hughes’s solicitor on 30th October 2014 to confirm that the interview the next day would go ahead and if Mr. Hughes did not show up the matter would be referred to the Referrals Committee. He concluded by saying that Mr. Hughes did not attend for interview and that was the last he heard from Mr. Hughes’s solicitor until the 21st November letter referred to earlier.

Having considered the evidence, the Referrals Committee found that it had been clearly established (well beyond the balance of probabilities) that Mr. Hughes was found in possession of unlawful material, including 6 kgs of Nitrotain.  Specifically, possession of anabolic steroids and the other unlawful material was based on acceptance of the evidence of Louis Reardon and by Mr. Hughes’s open plea in a public Court, as recorded on the face of the relevant orders.

The Committee also accepted the evidence of Dr Thomas Barragry that there was no possible legitimate reason for possession. Therefore, Mr. Hughes’s conduct was in breach of Rule 272 by undermining the integrity and reputation of the sport. His subsequent failure to engage with reasonable and legitimate questions and inquiries put to him by Turf Club investigators also fell well short of what was required of a licence holder under Rule 25, and clearly constituted a breach of that rule. The Committee noted that this Rule breach was continuing. The Committee was of the opinion that if Mr. Hughes was capable of attending race meetings, he was also capable of dealing with such reasonable questions and inquiries. His attitude to the investigation and the Committee was entirely unsatisfactory. Taken singly, or in combination with the possession of the unlawful material, the Committee found that Mr. Hughes’s conduct constituted clear and obvious breaches of Rules 272 and 273(xiii).

In relation to penalty, the Committee noted that there was no legitimate excuse for the possession of Nitrotain.  Possession of an anabolic steroid by a licence holder created very serious ramifications for the integrity and perception of the sport. They also noted that the misconduct relied upon by the Turf Club was based on evidence of possession by Mr. Hughes, as opposed to use or administration of all or any of the substances in question.

The possession of such substances was aggravated in this case by the significant “commercial” quantity of the anabolic steroid found in possession, and by the fact that the possessor was a highly qualified and experienced veterinary surgeon, which left no room for doubt about his knowledge of the nature and effects of the substance, or as to the legality of the situation. By way of mitigation, they accepted that Mr. Hughes had a clean record and was beyond normal retirement age, with certain medical issues.  They considered that disqualification was the only appropriate penalty.  They fixed the duration of the disqualification by reference to the aggravating and mitigating factors, and the fact that Mr. Hughes would not be impacted by the loss of any business or occupation currently carried on under licence of the Turf Club

The Committee declared John Hughes to be a disqualified person for 5 years from today (22nd November 2014). They also imposed a fine of €2,000 and ordered that he make a contribution of €2,500 towards the Turf Club’s costs.

In conclusion, the Committee reiterated that they had no knowledge of the newspaper articles opened to the Committee prior to this morning. They noted that the contents of the specific article produced were wholly at variance with the evidence presented regarding important aspects of the matters referred to the Committee. The allegations dealt with by the Committee related solely to matters of possession and of co-operation. The content of press reports did not influence the Committee in any way in relation to either finding or penalty.

The case was presented by Conal Boyce, Solicitor, Naas, Co Kildare.  John Hughes was not present at the hearing and was not represented.


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