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Non Raceday Inquiry RIU v M D Beeson - Reserved Penalty Decision dated 3 September 2020 - Chair, Mr R G McKenzie

Created on 04 September 2020

BEFORE A JUDICIAL COMMITTEE

HELD AT CHRISTCHURCH

IN THE MATTER of the Rules of New Zealand Greyhound Racing Association

IN THE MATTER of Information No. A11688

BETWEEN SIMON ANDREW IRVING, Racing Investigator for the Racing Integrity Unit

Informant

AND MARK DAVID BEESON, Club Official (Lure Driver)

Respondent

Judicial Committee: Mr R G McKenzie (Chair)

Mrs N Moffatt (Member)

Date of Decision: 3 September 2020

RESERVED PENALTY DECISION OF JUDICIAL COMMITTEE

The Charges

[1] Information No. A11688 has been filed by Racing Investigator, Mr S A Irving, against the Respondent, Mr Mark David Beeson, alleging that Mr Beeson, “on the 14th July 2020 at Manawatu Raceway, being engaged as the lure driver, left the raceway with no reasonable excuse following the running of Race 10, causing the remaining two races to be abandoned, conduct detrimental to the image and control of Greyhound Racing”.

[2] Mr Irving filed a letter dated 27 July 2020 from Mr M R Godber, General Manager of the Racing Integrity Unit, authorising the filing of the Information pursuant to Rule 66.2(a).

[3] The Information was served on the Respondent on 29 July 2020. At a telephone conference held on 18 August 2020, the Respondent advised that he admitted the charge.

[4] The charge is found proved accordingly.

[5] It was agreed that the charge could be dealt with “on the papers” pursuant to clause 21.1 of the Seventh Schedule, Common Rules of Practice and Procedure.

[6] Both parties were required to file written submissions in relation to penalty and such submissions have now been received by the Committee.

The Rules

[7] The relevant Rule provide as follows:

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

(q) commits or omits to do any act or engages in conduct which is in any way detrimental or prejudicial to the interest, welfare, image, control or promotion of Greyhound racing.

Facts

[8] Mr Irving presented the following Agreed Summary of Facts:

1. The Respondent, Mark David Beeson, is an official lure driver, approved under the Rules of the New Zealand Greyhound Racing Association (GRNZ).

2. He is 61 years old and has been the assistant lure driver, employed by the Wanganui Greyhound Racing Club (WGRC) for 13 years.

3. He is also employed by WGRC as their track curator.

4. The Respondent was engaged as the lure driver at the Palmerston North Greyhound Racing Club’s meeting at Manawatu Raceway on Tuesday, 14 July 2020.

5. Following the running of Race 10, Stewards commenced inquiry into the lure being driven incorrectly by the Respondent with the distance between the lure and the leading dog being less than the permissible five metres for a period entering the bend (GRNZ Rule 51.1.).

6. The Stewards estimated that the dog, JILLIBY LITSA (L Cole), got within 1.5m of the lure and was therefore advantaged, concluding that Race 10 be declared a “No Race”.

7. The Respondent was summoned to the Stewards’ Room and was spoken to by the Stewards, Mike Austin and Keith Coppins.

8. He was shown footage of the race and was reminded of his obligations under GRNZ Rule 51.1 regarding the lure distance.

9. During the conversation, the Respondent became agitated in his belief that there was no issue with the lure distance and that, as the Stewards were not lure drivers, should not comment on how a lure is driven.

10. He also stated that several other tracks around the country had broken the Rules regarding lure driving distances and nothing had been done about those venues.

11. The Respondent was annoyed that he had been questioned and that the race had been declared a “No Race” before being consulted and he left the Stewards’ room.

12. By this time, the runners for race 11 were at the start.

13. Approximately two minutes later, the Stewards were informed by another Official that the Respondent had returned to the lure driver room, got his belongings and left the building.

14. Steward, Mike Austin, went to the car park area and saw the Respondent walking to his car so asked him what was happening.

15. The Respondent did not reply.

16. Mr Austin then asked the Respondent to return to the lure drivers’ room to complete his duties and drive the lure for the remaining two races.

17. Again, the Respondent did not acknowledge the request and proceeded to get into his car and drive off, leaving the raceway.

18. Further inquiries revealed there was no “reserve” lure driver available (GRNZ Rule 49.2), so the Stewards made the decision to abandon the remaining two races.

19. The Respondent was interviewed on 24 July regarding his neglect of duty.

20. He admitted to “getting his back up” when the Stewards called a “No Race” without consulting him and took their questioning his lure driving as an insult.

21. In explanation, the Respondent stated that he was “brassed off” and that he didn’t hear what Mr Austin said outside before he got in his car and went home and, in hindsight, it wasn’t the right thing to do.

22. Those affected by the Respondent’s actions include the greyhounds that were denied starts, the trainers / owners who missed out on potential stakes (compensation has been paid by the PNGRC), punters, the TAB in regard to turnover and the PNGRC in regard to percentage turnover.

23. The incident even made media coverage in Australia including on the punters.com.au website with the headline “Investigation launched after lure driver walks off the job”.

24. The Respondent has been an approved lure driver for 30 years. He has had no previous charges before the JCA.

Penalty Submissions of the Informant

[9] Mr Irving filed the following submissions in relation to penalty:

1. The Respondent, Mark David Beeson, is an official lure driver, approved under the Rules of the New Zealand Greyhound Racing Association (GRNZ).

2. He is 61 years old and has been the assistant lure driver, employed by the Wanganui Greyhound Racing Club (WGRC), for 13 years.

3. He is also employed by WGRC as their track curator.

4. The Respondent has admitted a breach of Rule 62.1(q).

5. The circumstances are detailed in the attached Summary of Facts which have been agreed.

6. The penalties which may be imposed are detailed in the attached Charge Rule and Penalty Provisions Document.

7. The RIU submits that an appropriate penalty is a fine of $1000, being approximately 10% of the cost Mr Beeson’s actions had on the loss of revenue to the industry.

Precedent -

8. There are no previous cases with even remotely similar circumstances to this matter.

Penalty -

9. It is expected that Officials and Club employees will at all times act professionally and properly.

10. Failing to comply with GRNZ Rules and Policies must be viewed seriously and any penalty must act as a deterrent for others.

11. It is acknowledged that, if a second lure driver had been in attendance at the meeting per Rule 49.2, then the remaining races would have been delayed but not abandoned.

Aggravating Factors -

12. Mr Beeson stated that he was unaware if a reserve lure driver was on course that day and that he did not consider that fact when opting to leave the course.

13. Those affected by the abandonment of the two races include the greyhounds that were denied starts, the trainers / owners who missed out on potential stakes (compensation was paid by the PNGRC) and punters, with the cost to the industry in terms of betting percentages estimated by GRNZ to be $11,500.

14. The incident generated negative publicity for the industry through social media coverage in NZ and Australia including on the punters.com.au website with the headline “Investigation launched after lure driver walks off the job”.

Mitigating Factors -

15. Mr Beeson has been cooperative throughout the investigation process and has admitted the charge at the earliest opportunity.

16. Mr Beeson has been an approved lure driver for 30 years and has had no previous charges before the JCA.

Submissions of the Respondent

[10] The Respondent filed the following written submissions:

1. I fully admit that I left the Palmerston North Greyhound Track on 14th July with two races still to go when I was the main lure driver for the day.

2. At the time when I was asked to drive at the PNGC track on 14th July I had been going through a lot of personal issues and was not in a very good headspace.

3. When I was told that my lure driving in race 10 had the lure too close to the leading dog, I admit that upset me as I believe I was doing the best I could at the time. The Rule to the best of my knowledge was no shorter than 3 metres and no longer than 6 metres in front of the lead dog, and is at the Stipes’ discretion. On several occasions the Rules have been changed and the lure drivers do not get notified.

[NOTE: The current Rule is Rule 51.1 – “The Lure shall be controlled so as to be positioned at all times during the running of a Race at a distance of not less than 5 metres and no greater than 8 metres ahead of the leading Greyhound. However, the Steward(s) may permit a variance to such distance if he/she/they is/are satisfied that as a consequence of such variance no Greyhound has been substantially inconvenienced in running so as to affect the outcome of the Race”].

4. On that day I had driven 9 races without issue or anyone commenting there were any problems with my driving. So, when I was told that in race 10 my driving was not up to standard in that race, I felt blindsided and very upset.

5. I am not used to driving at PNGC and it is very different to the driving of the lure that I do at Wanganui. The PNGC has a totally different feel and response, but as I said I was honestly doing my best in a job that is challenging and requires split-second decision making.

6. For the past 12½ years I have worked at the Wanganui Greyhound Club as a Curator and lure driving has been part of my job. Not once during my time employed there has anyone ever referred to my lure driving as substandard or a problem.

7. I didn’t know a second lure driver was required at the track. I had no reason to ask or to be told during the day, and I do not recollect being told.

8. Since that day I have reflected a lot and have been working on my personal issues that I was struggling with at that time.

9. My employer Wanganui Greyhound Racing Club have offered me a lot of support and counselling.

10. I drove the lure at Wednesday’s and Friday’s meetings immediately after that day and felt much more comfortable driving at Wanganui. 

11. I would like to point out in the Summary of Facts, clause 22, that yes there were a lot of people affected and I regret that, but if PNGC had a second lure driver at the track as required (in GRNZ Rule 49.2) then these people and the Club would not have been affected.

12. Finally, I sincerely apologise for my actions, and I hope my impeccable record as a lure driver is noticed. I do thoroughly love greyhounds, greyhound racing and working in the industry. I fully regret leaving that day and have learnt from this experience. When I left the track, I was upset and feeling distressed that my lure driving was under such criticism. While in this emotional state, I gave no thought as to the impact of me leaving would have on the remaining two races and the fact that they would need to be abandoned.

12. I would like to propose a fine of $800, the reason being I have had no notification that Rule 55.1 had been changed, the countries lure driver [sic] need to be notified.

13. There is no Rule in the Rule book pertaining to the duties of the lure driver, it has been taken out.

Reasons for Penalty

[11] The circumstances of this case are that Mr Beeson was “on loan” to the Palmerston North Greyhound Racing Club as lure driver for its race meeting on 14 July 2020, both of that Club’s lure drivers being on annual leave on that day.

[12] Mr Beeson, it seems, performed the task of lure driver satisfactorily for the first 9 of the 12 races on the programme. In Race 10, however, Stewards determined that Mr Beeson had allowed the leading dog, JILLIBY LITSA, to get too close to the lure. Stewards estimated that that dog got within 1.5 metres of the lure. Rule 51.1 requires the lure to be positioned at all times during the running of a race at a distance of not less than 5 metres ahead of the leading greyhound (see para [9].3 above). In the view of the Stewards, JILLIBY LITSA had been advantaged and, accordingly, they declared the race to be a “No Race” pursuant to Rule 51.2.

[13] In brief, Mr Beeson took exception to the action of the Stewards and the manner in which they had come to the decision to declare the race a “No Race” and, with the runners for Race 11 at the start, he packed his belongings and left the course, despite Steward, Mr Austin, asking him to return to perform his duties for the remaining two races.

[14] There being no reserve lure driver on course, Stewards made the decision to abandon Races 11 and 12. The Club has been charged with a breach of Rule 49.2, which requires a Club to have “not less than 2 lure drivers in attendance at a meeting”.

[15] In relation to penalty, the Informant has submitted that Officials and Club employees must act professionally and properly at all times and that failing to comply with the Rules and Policies must be viewed seriously. Any penalty must act as a deterrent to others, the Informant submitted. The Informant went on to submit that, had a second lure driver been on the course as required by Rule 49.2, Races 11 and 12 would not have to have been abandoned. The Committee acknowledges this to be so. However, we do not see that this makes the actions of Mr Beeson as being any less blameworthy.

[16] The Informant has highlighted, as aggravating factors, that greyhounds were denied starts, owners and trainers were denied the opportunity to compete for the stakes and punters were affected. Further, the Informant estimated that the industry lost an estimated $11,500 by way of lost turnover. The Informant also submitted that the incident resulted in “negative publicity for the industry through social media coverage in this country and in Australia”. The Committee accepts that the incident would have reflected badly on Greyhound racing, something that that industry does not need in the current climate. In the words of Rule 62.1(q), Mr Beeson has done something “detrimental or prejudicial to the interest, welfare, image, control or promotion of Greyhound racing”.

[17] Against those factors, the Informant has referred, as mitigating factors, to Mr Beeson’s early admission of guilt and his previous unblemished record spanning 30 years in the industry. These are relevant factors which the Committee takes into account.

[18] In his penalty submissions, Mr Beeson states he was upset by the criticism directed at him by the Stewards following Race 10 when he had been “doing the best he could”, causing him to feel “upset and distressed”. It is not part of the Committee’s function to judge the quality of Mr Beeson’s performance in Race 10 but, rather, his reaction to the Stewards’ criticism of that performance. His reaction does him no credit. He let the Club down rather badly.

[19] Mr Beeson has, quite properly, apologised for his actions and he states that he regrets his actions. He has asked us to take into account his “impeccable record” as a lure driver. He is, clearly, passionate about greyhounds and Greyhound racing and his actions, on this occasion, were quite out of character.

[20] We note the Informant’s submission for a fine of $1,000. Mr Beeson has submitted that a fine of $800 would be appropriate. It is curious that the reason that he gives for submitting for a lesser fine than that submitted by the Informant is that he had received no notification that Rule 55.1 had been changed. We make two comments on that. Firstly, as a professional lure driver, Mr Beeson ought to have been aware of the Rule. Secondly, his lack of knowledge of the requirements of Rule 55.1 in no way justified his actions in abandoning his position as lure driver, as he did, for the remaining two races. By way of a final comment on Mr Beeson’s submissions, it does not assist him to claim that the Club ought to have had a second lure driver on course, which would have avoided the necessity to abandon Races 11 and 12, with the consequences that flowed from that.

[21] We have had regard to the need to hold Mr Beeson accountable for his offending, the need to promote in him a sense of responsibility for and an acknowledgement of his offending, the need to deter him and others from the same or similar offences and the need to protect the image and integrity of Greyhound racing.

[22] Weighing up those factors, and all other factors including the aggravating and mitigating factors, the penalties submitted by the parties which we have referred to and the degree of culpability which we find as mid-to-high on a scale, the Committee has decided that Mr Beeson will be fined the sum of $1,500.

Penalty

[23] Mr Beeson is fined the sum of $1,500.

Costs

[24] There will be no order for costs.

R G MCKENZIE

(Chair)

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