Protecting the Integrity & Reputation of Irish Horseracing

Paul Gilligan / Wellforth Referral

The Referrals Committee, Judge Tony Hunt (in the chair), Hugh M. Ferguson and Sean Barry met at the Turf Club, Curragh, Co. Kildare on 21st January, 29th April and 24th May 2013, to consider the referral of Paul Gilligan, trainer, by Denis Egan, Chief Executive of the Turf Club, as a result of of investigations carried out into a series of complaints made by Mrs. Noreen Watts, former owner of Wellforth.  The Committee considered whether Paul Gilligan was in breach of any rules as a result of:-

(a) entering and running Wellforth in the Imperial Call Steeplechase at Cork on 8th April 2012 and in the P&D Lyndon Plant Hire Handicap Steeplechase at Ballinrobe on 1st May 2012, without the consent or knowledge of Mrs. Watts in the name of E. Gilligan; (b) failing to remit to Mrs. Watts any of the prizemoney won by Wellforth during the period 4th April 2012 and 7th May 2012 when the horse ran in the name of E. Gilligan; (c) transferring the ownership of Wellforth into E. Gilligan’s name without the consent or knowledge of Mrs. Watts on 3rd April 2012.

Evidence was heard from Ms. Cathy-Ann Hazzard, manager – Racing Dept. Horse Racing Ireland, Christopher Gordon, Turf Club head of security, Mrs. Noreen Watts, Peter Watts – husband of Noreen Watts (via Skype from Australia), Paul Gilligan, Mrs. Natalie Gilligan – wife of Paul Gilligan and Jim Kavanagh – former chief executive and consultant to the Irish Racehorse Trainers Association.

In her evidence, Ms. Cathy-Ann Hazzard outlined the return-in-training record of Wellforth insofar as it related to the matter at hand. She said that Wellforth was originally returned in training by Paul Gilligan in the name of Mrs. Noreen Watts (as owner) in September 2010. The horse was returned in and out of training on a number of occasions thereafter in Mrs. Watts’ name up to 6th March 2012 when the horse was returned out of training. The reason given for the horse being returned out of training at that time was that the horse was “sold”.

On 3rd April 2012 the horse was returned in training in Eamonn Gilligan’s name (as owner) and Wellforth ran in Mr. Gilligan’s name at Cork on 8th April 2012 when he won the Imperial Call Steeplechase and at Ballinrobe on 1st May 2012 when he finished unplaced in the P & D Lydon Plant Hire Handicap Steeplechase. The horse was subsequently returned out of training on 8th May 2012 with the reason being given as “sold”. On the same day the horse was retuned back in training in the name of Mrs. Noreen Watts (as owner). Paul Gilligan made all the changes to the return-in-training record directly to Horse Racing Ireland using the Minitel system.

Ms. Hazzard said that Horse Racing Ireland does not carry out any cross check with the owner to validate returns in training changes made by the trainer. She also outlined the administration functions that a trainer can carry out under the authority to act and said that these functions do not extend to allowing the trainer change ownership in a horse without the owner’s consent.

Regarding the prize money won at Cork, she said that this was credited to Eamonn Gilligan’s account.

Ms. Hazzard also outlined how the credit control system operated in Horse Racing Ireland and the procedures that are followed if an account becomes overdrawn.

In his evidence Christopher Gordon outlined details of the investigative work he carried out prior to the referral. He said that he met with both Mrs. Noreen Watts and her husband Peter and that he also met with Paul and Eamonn Gilligan. He said that Noreen and Peter Watts had expressed anger and frustration that Paul Gilligan could alter the ownership details of Wellforth without their consent and that the prize money won by Wellforth could be paid directly into Eamonn Gilligan’s Horse Racing Ireland Account as a consequence of what occurred.

Mr. Gordon said that Paul Gilligan claimed Mrs. Watts owed substantial training fees (a fact Mrs. Watts disputed). He acknowledged that he had changed the ownership details, as he had no other possibility of recouping his losses on the Watts account.

In her evidence, Mrs. Noreen Watts outlined the background to what occurred. She said that both she and her husband Peter went to Australia in early March 2012 and the only instruction they left with Paul Gilligan was that Wellforth was to be entered and to run in the cross-country chase at Cheltenham. She said that no instruction was given to return the horse out of training and that the horse was returned out of training without the knowledge of either herself or her husband and that the first she knew about the horse being returned out of training was in January 2013. She said she did not know that the horse had been put into Eamonn Gilligan’s name and she certainly wouldn’t have consented to the transfer.

The first she knew about the horse running in Cork on 8th April 2012 was when her husband received a text from his brother-in-law the next day to say that the horse had won. She said they received no communication from Paul Gilligan about the Cork race and that they had made a number of unsuccessful attempts to contact Paul Gilligan from Australia.  She said when she arrived back in Ireland on 17th April she tried unsuccessfully on a number of occasions to contact Paul Gilligan and eventually managed to contact him on 25th April and had a brief conversation with him but did not manage to illicit many answers. She said he made no reference to the Ballinrobe race and didn’t respond when asked why Wellforth ran in Eamonn Gilligan’s colours at Cork. Mrs. Watts went on to say that the first she knew about the horse running in Ballinrobe was when she read it in the paper on the morning of the race.

With regard to the prize money won at Cork, Mrs. Watts said that her husband had numerous meetings with Paul Gilligan in relation to the payment and that he was always told that the paperwork was with his accountant. She said the last bill they had received from Paul Gilligan was in August 2011.

Mrs. Watts confirmed that she did not give permission for Wellforth to be entered and run at Cork and Ballinrobe nor did she give permission for the prize money won at Cork to be lodged in the account of Eamonn Gilligan.

Mrs. Watts also gave details of her account with Horse Racing Ireland for the period January to April 2012. She said she was happy that when she left for Australia in early March there were sufficient funds available in the account to cover the entry cost for Cheltenham and as that was the only race he was to run in she didn’t foresee any difficulty. She said that neither she nor her husband received any calls when they were in Australia from Paul Gilligan to say that he couldn’t enter the horse because there was a problem with the account.

In relation to her account with Paul Gilligan, Mrs. Watts outlined arrangements that had been made in relation to the discharge of amounts owing, which included purchasing feed and disinfecting the stables.

In his evidence Peter Watts outlined his relationship with Paul Gilligan and referred to how Wellforth went into training with him. He also referred to the sale of a horse to a third party and Paul Gilligan’s indirect involvement in the transaction. He outlined how the plan was to run Wellforth in the cross-country race at Cheltenham. However prior to the race he received a phone call to say that the horse wouldn’t be running. He said he gave no instruction to Paul Gilligan with regard to the horse when Cheltenham was off the agenda. He did not give any instruction for the horse to be returned out of training nor did he know that the horse had been returned back in training on 3rd April 2012 in the name of Eamonn Gilligan.

He confirmed that he did not sell the horse to Eamonn Gilligan nor did he give any instruction for the horse to be transferred into Eamonn Gilligan’s name. He confirmed that he only heard that Wellforth had run and won in Cork after he received a text from his brother-in-law on 9th April 2011 and that he was unable to contact Paul Gilligan subsequently by phone despite trying to do so on a number of occasions. He said he eventually managed to speak to him on the morning of the Ballinrobe race (1st May) after his wife told him that the horse was running. He asked him why the horse was running in his own colours again and the reply he received was that it was too late to do anything now but that he would change it back after the race.

Peter Watts said he came back to Ireland on 30th May 2012 and met with Paul Gilligan. He asked him why he ran the horse and in response Paul Gilligan told him that he had to do something. He said that he was also told that his accountant was sorting out where matters stood on the prize money.

Mr. Watts went on to say that Wellforth subsequently ran and won in Uttoxeter and that relationships with Mr. Gilligan started to disimprove from then on after he met a lady in Uttoxeter who told him that she was trying to buy the horse for the previous six months. He said that Paul Gilligan had not informed him of this. He said he decided to ask the Turf Club to investigate the matter when Mr. Gilligan’s accountant had not sorted out the distribution of the Cork prize money despite Mr. Gilligan assuring him that the matter would be resolved on a number of occasions.

During cross-examination by Andrew Coonan, Peter Watts said that there were no monies owing to Paul Gilligan for training fees up to 31st December 2011. He said he paid money every time he was asked to do so by Mr. Gilligan except on the last occasion, which was prior to leaving for Australia. This included purchasing feed for Mr. Gilligan’s behalf. He said he had no missed calls from Mr. Gilligan prior to the race in Cork even though he was using his Irish mobile. He accepted that he owed money to Mr. Gilligan and that the main reason he went to his yard around 30th May was to square up his account. He also said he had instructed Mr. Gilligan prior to he going to Australia that the horse should be put out to grass after Cheltenham.

In his evidence Paul Gilligan outlined the background to his relationship with Peter Watts. He said things were good at the start but that when Peter’s business got into difficulty there was trouble with money coming the whole time but that he would pay what he could. He confirmed that Peter Watts had bought feed in January and February in lieu of training fees. He said that Peter Watts has asked that no invoices should be sent to him but that he had given copies of all outstanding invoices to the Turf Club during the investigation. It was noted that all the invoices were dated September 2012 even though they related to period June 2011 to September 2012. Paul Gilligan accepted that his accounts were casual and that there was a loose arrangement with Peter Watts.

In relation to informing Peter Watts that the horse would not be running in Cheltenham, he said that Mr. Watts instructed him to “continue on and run the horse if a race comes up”. Paul Gilligan said that he tried to enter the horse on a number of occasions and was unable to do so as there were insufficient funds in Mrs. Watts’ Horse Racing Ireland account. As a result he returned the horse out of training on 6th March 2012. Paul Gilligan said that he tried to return the horse in Eamonn Gilligan’s name after this but was unable to do so until 3rd April 2012 as the Cheltenham entry had not been charged.

Paul Gilligan said that he changed ownership into Eamonn Gilligan’s name because “the system allowed him to do it”. He said he was unable to contact Peter Watts in Australia either before or after the Cork race. When he did eventually speak to him he said that Peter Watts had no problem with the horse running in Eamonn Gilligan’s colours in the Cork race.

During cross-examination by Conal Boyce, Paul Gilligan confirmed that he transferred the ownership of the horse to Eamonn Gilligan because there were insufficient funds in Noreen Watts’ account to enter the horse. He accepted that he didn’t contact Horse Racing Ireland accounts even though prompted to do so by the Minitel system. He also accepted that he made a false declaration on Minitel on two occasions when returning the horse out of training to the effect that the horse was sold. He confirmed that Eamonn Gilligan never owned Wellforth. He also said that he didn’t insure Wellforth when it ran in Eamonn Gilligan’s name. In conclusion he accepted that:-

(i) He entered and ran Wellforth in the Imperial Call Steeplechase at Cork on 8th April 2012 and in the P & D Lydon Plant Hire Steeplechase at Ballinrobe on 1st May 2012 without the consent or knowledge of Mrs. Noreen Watts

(ii) He failed to remit to Mrs. Watts any of the prize money won by Wellforth during the period 4th April 2012 and 7th May 2012 when the horse ran in the name of Eamonn Gilligan

(iii) He transferred the ownership of Wellforth into Eamonn Gilligan’s name without the consent or knowledge of Mrs. Noreen Watts on 3rd April 2012

He said that the money won by Wellforth at Cork was in their credit union account.

In her evidence, Mrs. Natalie Gilligan said she was familiar with the Watts account and that she didn’t send invoices to Mrs. Watts following a request by Peter Watts. She accepted that Eamonn Gilligan’s account had received the benefit of the prize money won at Cork and that it not been paid to Noreen Watts.

In his evidence, Jim Kavanagh referred to the problem trainers have with the level of unpaid debt and said in many cases trainers ended up being left with horses, which had been abandoned by owners.

Having considered the evidence the Referrals Committee found that the factual matters contained in the relevant letters of referral have been proved by the evidence, namely that:-

(i) Paul Gilligan entered and ran Wellforth in the Imperial Call Steeplechase at Cork on 8th April 2012 and in the P & D Lydon Plant Hire Steeplechase at Ballinrobe on 1st May 2012 without the consent or knowledge of Mrs. Noreen Watts

(ii) He failed to remit to Mrs. Watts any of the prize money won by Wellforth during the period 4th April 2012 and 7th May 2012 when the horse ran in the name of Eamonn Gilligan and

(iii) He transferred the ownership of Wellforth into Eamonn Gilligan’s name without the consent or knowledge of Mrs. Noreen Watts on 3rd April 2012

It was found that as a result of this Paul Gilligan was in breach of Rule 272 as the conduct disclosed by these findings of fact were prejudicial to the integrity and proper conduct of horseracing.

It was also found Paul Gilligan to be in breach of Rule 273 (xiii) as he was guilty of telling an untruth and feeding false information into the system to confer an advantage on himself (with the assistance of Eamonn Gilligan) to which he would not otherwise be entitled, namely the ability to retain and manage prize money which was the property of an owner.  His general approach and conduct was prejudicial to the ownership rights of Mrs. Watts in Wellforth. Regardless of whether or not any debt was due by Mrs. Watts to Paul Gilligan, the Committee were satisfied that the approach to rights of ownership of Mrs. Watts to Wellforth, the subsequent retention of prize money and the casual manner of book-keeping constituted a breach of the above rule in that this conduct was likely to cause serious damage to the interests of horseracing.

The Referrals Committee emphasized that the Turf Club has no role in the adjudication of civil disputes involving amounts owed by owners to trainers, and that such matters must be resolved through the civil courts if they cannot be resolved by agreement. They also noted Mr. Kavanagh’s evidence that while trainers may be unhappy about the remedies available to them in relation to defaulting owners, either under the Rules or in civil law generally, these were not a matters that concerned the Turf Club. 

It was emphasised that trainers are not entitled to abuse the available rules and procedures to obtain the type of advantage gained by Paul Gilligan in this case.

Mr. Coonan then made a submission in mitigation of penalty in relation to Paul Gilligan.  On that issue, the Referrals Committee took into account two factors, namely the seriousness of the breaches and the individual circumstances of Paul Gilligan. What had occurred was a clear breach of the standards expected of a licensed trainer. It was made clear that in any future case involving conduct of this type, there would be no excuse for any ambiguity as to trainer’s entitlements, either pursuant to an express Authority to Act, or under any other form of implied authority.

There is no possible basis for an alleged debt of any nature to be pursued or secured by a change of ownership being effected in the circumstances disclosed by the evidence in this case.  It is not possible for a horse to be run in different colours or to be placed in different ownership without the express consent of the owner, with a view to obtaining any type of financial advantage.  Such future conduct will in the ordinarily result in a sanction of immediate disqualification in similar cases.

In deciding on the penalty to be imposed, the Committee noted that it was Paul Gilligan’s first serious offence, together with his financial and family circumstances as outlined by Mr. Coonan. Notwithstanding the seriousness of his conduct, the Committee held that immediate removal of his licence at this time would be particularly harsh, having regard to the consequences of the loss of his sole means of living for him and his family. It was noted that an appropriate penalty in any similar case would be a disqualification and a suspension of licence for a period of at least 12 months.

The Committee decided to impose the 12 month penalty but to suspend it on the condition that Paul Gilligan does not commit any further breach of Rule 272 or 273 for a period of two years from the 24th of May 2013. For the purposes of this suspension of penalty, the referable date is the date of any subsequent breach, rather than the date upon which such breach might be established.  If a breach is found to have occurred within that period, the suspended suspension might be activated at any time thereafter; together the application of any other sanctions to which Mr. Gilligan may have made himself liable by reason of such subsequent breaches. It was also ordered that he pay a contribution of €2,500 towards Turf Club costs.

Paul Gilligan was represented by Andrew Coonan, Coonan Cawley Solicitors, Naas, Co. Kildare.  The case was presented by Conal Boyce, Solicitors, Naas, Co. Kildare.


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