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Non Raceday Inquiry RIU v C J Weir - Penalty Decision dated 19 April 2017 - Chair, Mr R G McKenzie

Created on 21 April 2017

BEFORE A JUDICIAL COMMITTEE HELD AT CHRISTCHURCH

IN THE MATTER of the Rules of New Zealand Greyhound Racing Association (Incorporated)

IN THE MATTER of Information No. A6653

BETWEEN PETER ROSS LAMB, Racing Investigator for the Racing Integrity Unit

Informant

AND CALUM JOHN WEIR of Rangiora, Licensed Trainer

Respondent

Judicial Committee: R G McKenzie (Chairman)

D J Anderson

Present: Mr P R Lamb (the Informant)

Mr C J Weir (the Respondent)

Mr D J Wadley (Registrar)

Date of Hearing: 9 April 2017

Venue: Rangiora Racecourse, Rangiora

Date of Decision: 19 April 2017

PENALTY DECISION OF JUDICIAL COMMITTEE

The Charge

[1] Information No. A6653 alleges that the Respondent, Calum John Weir, a Licensed Trainer under the Greyhound Racing New Zealand Rules of Racing, committed a breach of Rule 87.1 (f) of those Rules in that, on the 10th day of March 2017, he used improper and offensive language to Richard Quirk, a Stipendiary Steward.

[2] Mr Lamb produced a letter dated 24th March 2017 and signed by Mr M R Godber, General Manager of the Racing Integrity Unit, consenting to the filing of the information pursuant to Rule 91.2 (a).

The Plea

[3] The information was served on Mr Weir on 28th March 2017. He signed the Statement by the Respondent on the information form indicating that he admitted the breach of the Rule.

[4] Mr Weir was present at the hearing of the information. After the charge and Rule were read to him, he confirmed that he admitted the breach of the Rule.

[5] The charge was found proved accordingly.

The Rule

[6] Rule 87.1 provides as follows:

Any person (including an Official) commits an offence if he/she:

f. uses improper, insulting or offensive language in either written or spoken form towards, or in relation to:

i. a Steward.

The Facts

[7] Mr Lamb presented the following Summary of Facts:

The Respondent, Calum John Weir, is a licensed trainer under the Rules of New Zealand Greyhound Racing Association. He is 29 years old and has been a Greyhound Trainer since 2008.

At about 3.00pm on Friday 10th March 2017 at the Christchurch Greyhound Racing Club’s meeting at Addington Raceway, Mr Weir presented himself to the Stewards’ Room after Race 11 to speak to Stipendiary Steward, Richard Quirk, in relation to his concerns with the track racing surface. This eventuated following a career-threatening injury sustained by his greyhound during the running of Race 10.

During their initial conversation, Mr Weir offered to relinquish his trainer’s licence, due to his frustration about the lack of action being taken to rectify the perceived problem.

A clearly upset and agitated Mr Weir, using a very loud voice, remonstrated further with Steward, Mr Quirk, about the condition of the track with a barrage of abuse while using the expletive “f..k” repeatedly.

Such was volume of his voice that his use of the expletive could be heard clearly by a witness in an adjoining business office.

In reference to the track condition, Mr Weir directed comment to Mr Quirk in that “it’s time you Stewards got off your fat f.....g a...s and did something about it”.

Further discussion was held into the injury that Mr Weir’s greyhound suffered. In reference to the greyhound racing recently in Auckland, an enraged Mr Weir said to Mr Quirk “now you are saying I don’t check my f.....g dogs”, referring to previous injuries.

He then left the Stewards’ Room, after uplifting his previously tendered licence.

Due to the volume of the commotion in the Stewards’ Room, a staff member from the next-door business was concerned enough to check on the welfare of the Steward after Mr Weir had left.

When spoken to in the following days, Mr Weir acknowledged that he had become very upset with Mr Quirk as he believed that his concerns about the track were not being taken seriously.

He had become more upset when spoken to about his greyhound’s injury and felt that his credibility as a trainer was being questioned. That caused him to see red and he reacted.

Mr Weir acknowledged using language towards Mr Quirk that was not appropriate. He was, however, upset at the injury suffered by his greyhound and he felt that it was an avoidable injury.

He regretted the manner in that he made his point and has apologised to Mr Quirk and the female staff member of the adjoining business for his behaviour.

Mr Weir has been involved in the Greyhound industry for approximately 10 years.

He has had one previous charge for his behaviour in relation to an abusive email sent to a GRNZ official in 2014.

Penalty Submissions of the Informant

[8] Mr Lamb presented the following submissions in relation to penalty:

1. Mr Weir (29 years) has pleaded guilty to a breach of Rules 87.1 (f) after using improper and offensive language to Stipendiary Steward, Richard Quirk, following Race 11 at the Christchurch Greyhound Racing Club meeting on 10th March 2017.

2. The penalty provisions that apply in this case are outlined in Rule 88.1:

Any person found guilty of an offence under these Rules shall be liable to:

a. a fine not exceeding $10,000.00 for any one (1) offence; and/or

b. Suspension; and/or

c. Disqualification; and/or

d. Warning off.

3. Sentencing Principles –

The four principles of sentencing can be summarised briefly:

• Penalties are designed to punish the offender for his/her wrongdoing. They are not retributive in the sense that the punishment is disproportionate to the offence but the offender must be met with a punishment.

• In a racing context, it is extremely important that a penalty has the effect of deterring others from committing like offences.

• A penalty should reflect the disapproval of the Judicial Control Authority for the type of behaviour in question.

• The need to rehabilitate the offender should be taken into account.

All principles are particularly relevant here.

4. Relevant Precedents

The JCA guidelines on penalty (2015) for Greyhound Racing do not list a starting point for this offence. It can therefore be inferred that the starting point for “using improper and offensive language to a Steward” is “fact dependent”.

The following Non-Race Day Inquiry charges of “using improper and offensive language to a Steward” under NZGR rules have resulted in fines ranging from $200 - $400:

RIU v C Weir (5.03.2014) – GRNZ Licenced Trainer sent email containing offensive language to GRNZ official. $200 fine (starting point $300)

RIU v L Phillips (16.08.2013) – GRNZ Licenced Trainer insulting language to a Club official. $350 fine (starting point $400)

RIU v W Hodgson (4.03.2015) – GRNZ Licenced Trainer offensive language to a Steward. $400 fine (starting point $650)

RIU v J Lane (27.03.2015) – GRNZ Licenced Trainer offensive language towards Stewards. Fine $300 (Starting point $400)

From the Harness Racing Jurisdiction:

RIU v S Dickson (11.02.2017) – HRNZ Trainer/Driver charged with misconduct (offensive language towards a Steward). Fine $850 (Starting point $1000)

5. Aggravating Features -

a. Mr Weir has been involved in the Greyhound racing industry for a number of years and knows the importance of conducting himself in a professional manner and maintaining integrity in racing.

b. The fact that the use of the loud, offensive language by Mr Weir was overheard by a female witness in an adjoining office, with that causing her sufficient concern that she checked on the welfare of the Steward following the incident.

c. The Steward subjected to the offensive language was going about his raceday duties and considered that the abuse was directed at him personally.

d. Mr Weir has previously been charged with similar offending in 2014.

6. Mitigating Factors:

a. This incident was emotionally-driven, as a greyhound, trained by Mr Weir, suffered a career-threatening injury in the preceding race.

b. Mr Weir admitted the breach at the first opportunity and has co-operated fully throughout the investigation.

c. Mr Weir has accepted responsibility for his actions and language, and has made apologies to both the Steward and the female witness.

7. Conclusions

The Racing Integrity Unit believes that this is mid-range offending in respect of a breach of Rule 87.1 of New Zealand Greyhound Racing Rules.

This is a second offence by this Respondent in respect of a breach of this Rule.

There are several concerning aggravating factors in this matter. However, to balance that, Mr Weir has conducted himself well during this inquiry, being open and honest, and has admitted the breach at the earliest possible opportunity. Credit needs to be given for that.

Based on the overall circumstances considered in this case, the RIU would seek the Committee to consider a starting point of $750 for a monetary fine.

Submissions of the Respondent

[9] Mr Weir presented the following written submissions to the hearing. They have been edited where appropriate

:

On the day in question, 10 March 2017, I presented three greyhounds at Addington Raceway. The first dog to start was in Race 8, ZIPPING MARLISA. She finished in 2nd place. As I was taking her back to my van, I noticed she had torn her nail out.

My next race was Race 10. ZIPPING JORDAN was having her first start after making the Auckland Cup field the previous Sunday. She travelled home perfectly and also pulled up perfectly with no injuries. We were confident of a strong performance along with the punters – she was a $1.60 favourite. The race began and she missed away slightly, but pushed up nicely on the first bend to sit 3rd. She then pushed off the track slightly, which was her racing style and, free of interference, she broke her hock and tailed the field badly.

As a trainer who only has a small team of dogs the past few seasons, a loss like this is devastating to me and my family. We have lost eleven top race dogs at Addington in the last 18 months. It never gets easier and the fear of racing my dogs never goes away. On top of all this emotional stress, I have also got a business to run.

In Race 11, we had SWIMMING GOAT who had recently returned from Auckland after winning the Group 1. We were confident of another strong performance. He jumped well, sat behind the leader and made no ground whatsoever, not looking like the dog we all know. I soon realised that he had strained his left hock badly, another injury that was not there before the race. By then I felt incredibly overwhelmed and my anxiety kicked in. I didn’t feel like racing was worth it anymore.

I went up to the Stewards’ Room and spoke to Mr Quirk, who was working that day. I grabbed my trainer’s licence out of my wallet and said “I want to hand my licence in. I can’t handle seeing my dogs and my fellow trainers’ dogs break down. I feel like we aren’t taken seriously about the welfare of our dogs or how we actually feel about it. It emotionally destroys you after a while”.

Mr Quirk wasn’t too concerned or interested and told me to get hold of NZGRA as it was not his job. I then mentioned to him that monitoring the safety of the track was part of his job and he had failed at doing so. Mr Quirk and I then got into a heated disagreement about the state of the track.

The key point from my point of view is that Mr Quirk stated that the Addington track is the best he had seen it, and no trainers had complained about it. I mentioned to him about the notice about the track in the kennel block and the problems that occur with it. Although Mr Quirk said that he had not seen it, it was in two different places – the notice board and on the table where kennel staff sit.

I believe that ZIPPING JORDAN’s fractured hock happened because of the inconsistency of the track and her shifting off the rail where it is soft to a firmer part wider on the track. I mentioned this to Mr Quirk. He showed no sympathy or empathy for losing ZIPPING JORDAN or showed any interest in my complaints and concerns.

I felt belittled by Mr Quirk’s attitude towards me. He then suggested to me that the greyhound had injured herself in the Auckland Cup and that I raced her injured. I then started using inappropriate language to Mr Quirk as I felt that he was doubting my ability to check my dogs, as well as not having their best interests at heart. The three dogs that raced that day all came off sore, one actually ending its career. I was extremely on edge.

The comments he made were disrespectful as well as degrading to me. I felt antagonised and bullied by those comments. As a result, I handled the situation differently from how I normally would.

After speaking to Mr Lamb a few days later, and hearing from him that Shona from “All About People” had overheard the argument it had sunk in that my language was unacceptable. I then phoned Mr Quirk and apologised for the way I had handled myself. I also rang Shona and explained a small part of what had gone on and apologised immensely to her. She had mentioned that she had heard two men arguing and then me swearing towards the end.

I regret that this incident ever happened and I hope that all involved will accept my sincerest apologies.

[10] Mr Weir also produced:

• Statistics gathered by him as to “Greyhounds lost in the past 18 months at Addington Raceway”. He concluded that the “injury rate was 11 greyhounds per 350 -350 starters”;

• Three character references, none of which had been signed by the referee; and

• A copy of the Notice (Chairman’s Update 23 February 2017) referred to in his submissions. The relevant part of the Notice states:

Discussion with trainers, track staff and management seems to point to the fact that in recent weeks the track surface seems to be drier and looser a metre or so out from the rail disadvantaging dogs running on this line.

We believe that this has occurred due to the fact the wobble wheeled roller hasn’t been used as it is worn out and the new water tanker is not directing enough water to this part of the track. Track staff have implemented changes to give a short term solution until we are able to replace or alter equipment.

We apologise for any distress this has caused.

The Board values feedback on such matters from anyone who has concerns. Please contact Tony, myself or any Board member to share your concerns, the sooner we are aware of an issue the sooner we can look for a solution.

Chris Earl

Chair

Penalty Decision

[11] The penalty Rule is Rule 88.1. It is set out in paragraph 2 of the Informant’s penalty submissions above.

[12] Mr Weir has frankly admitted to this hearing that his language to Stipendiary Steward, Mr Quirk, at the race meeting at Addington Raceway on 10 March last was inappropriate. His language involved the use of expletives at such a volume that it was heard by a female staff member of a business in adjoining premises. Such conduct is unacceptable.

[13] It is vital that a Stipendiary Steward be able to perform his raceday duties without being subjected to any form of abuse, including verbal, from licenceholders and other persons. A Steward’s task is not always an easy one as, by the very nature of the job, he will from time to time encounter persons who will not necessarily agree with decisions made or actions taken.

[14] In the case of this particular charge, Mr Quirk, while going about his raceday functions, was confronted by Mr Weir upset at injuries that had been suffered by three greyhounds trained by him as a result of, according to Mr Weir, the state of the Addington racing surface.

[15] The Committee concedes that Mr Weir may have had some justification for feeling upset as he did, as it must have been distressing for him to have had three greyhounds injured during the raceday. He stated that he had taken offence at a comment by Mr Quirk during the course of a discussion with Mr Quirk which, up until that point, he claimed, had been civil.

[16] The Committee is not in a position to assess whether there was any merit in Mr Weir’s concern over the track but we are satisfied that the appropriate forum for voicing those concerns was not in the Stewards’ Room on raceday. Mr Quirk would have been going about his raceday duties and could reasonably expect that he would not be “ambushed” by a trainer concerning the state of the racing surface, and then be verbally abused by that trainer.

[17] The Committee has taken into account all of the matters put forward in mitigation by Mr Weir. Even taking those matters into account, the Committee still strongly disapproves of Mr Weir’s behaviour.

[18] Mr Lamb put before us, in his penalty submissions, the penalties handed down in a number of similar cases. It appears that the penalties for using insulting or offensive language to a Steward or Club Official have ranged between $300-400 and, in one harness racing case, a fine of $850.

[19] Of course, the facts of each case can vary widely but, in all of the cases referred to, the conduct of the Respondent was found unacceptable.

[20] When determining an appropriate penalty, it is necessary for us to look at the aggravating and mitigating factors. Aggravating factors in this case are, firstly, that Mr Weir’s abusive language, with expletives, was clearly heard by a female staff member of an adjoining business and, secondly, that Mr Weir has a previous breach in 2014 of the misconduct Rule which was described by the Judicial Committee as “a level of offending at the lower level” and “in the heat of the moment” and “totally out of character”. That charge involved using obscene language in an email to the Animal Welfare Officer of GRNZ. Mr Weir was fined $200 on that occasion.

[21] Mitigating factors to which we have had regard are, firstly, Mr Weir’s admission of the breach, secondly and significantly, that he later made a personal apology to both Mr Quirk and the female staff member and, thirdly, we were told that Mr Weir had fully cooperated throughout the investigation of the charge. While not necessarily a mitigating factor, we do accept that Mr Weir was understandably upset at the time but, clearly, this did not excuse his conduct towards Mr Quirk. Mr Weir, himself, accepts that. We have, however, taken his state of mind into account.

[22] We have taken a starting point for penalty of a $500 fine and have uplifted this by $200 to $700 for the aggravating factors referred to above. It is appropriate to give Mr Weir a discount for the mitigating factors referred to and we have assessed the appropriate discount at $200.

[23] The Committee is satisfied that a fine of $500 will suffice to satisfy the general purposes of sentencing which are well-established – to hold the offender accountable for his actions, to promote in the offender a sense of responsibility, to denounce the conduct of the offender and to deter the offender or other persons from committing the same or a similar offence. The Committee has also had regard, as always, to the need to maintain integrity and public confidence in Greyhound Racing.

Penalty

[24] Mr Weir is fined the sum of $500.00.

Costs

[25] The Informant did not seek an order for costs and, since the hearing took place on a raceday, there will be no order for costs in favour of the Judicial Control Authority.

R G McKENZIE

Chair 

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