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Non Raceday Inquiry - NZTR v S Robbins-Ambrose - 23 September 2010 - Decision

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656(3)

Non Raceday Inquiry

 

NZTR v Sam Robbins-Ambrose

Held at the Otaki Racecourse on Thursday 23 September 2010

 

Judicial Committee:   Paul Williams, Chair

                               Tom Castles, Committee Member

 

Present:                    Mr R L H Neal, Senior Stipendiary Steward

                               Miss S Robbins-Ambrose, Defendant  

 

DECISION OF THE JUDICIAL COMMITTEE – 23 SEPTEMBER 2010

 

THE CHARGE

 

1  Information 5358 has been filed by Mr R L H Neal, Senior Stipendiary Steward and alleges a breach of Rule 656(3) of the Rules of Racing by Miss Sam Robbins-Ambrose.  The charge reads as follows:-

 

THAT on Tuesday 31st August 2010 at Otaki, being a rider who, having been requested by a Stipendiary Steward to supply a sample of her urine which was found, upon analysis, to contain the controlled drug Cannabis as defined in the Misuse of Drugs Act 1975, committed a breach of Rule 656 (3) of the New Zealand Rules of Racing AND THAT you are thereby liable to the penalty or penalties which may be imposed upon your pursuant to the provisions of Rule 803 of the said Rules.

 

2  Rule 656 (3) states:-

 

“A Rider who, having been required by a Stipendiary Steward or Investigator to supply a sample of his blood, breath, urine, saliva or sweat (or more than one thereof) in accordance with this Rule must not have blood, breath, urine, saliva or sweat (whichever is the subject of the applicable sample) which is found upon analysis to contain any controlled drug as defined in the Misuse of Drugs Act 1975 or other illicit substance or diuretic and/or its metabolites, artifacts or isomers”

 

3  Miss Robbins-Ambrose attended the hearing and admitted the breach of the Rules.  She agreed she understood the charge and the rule.  The Committee therefore found the charge to be proved.

 

FACTS

 

4  Mr Neal provided a signed authority from the Chief Executive of NZTR to proceed with the charge against Miss Robbins-Ambrose and he also presented a “Summary of Facts” relating to this charge.

 

5  On Tuesday 31 August 2010 NZTR officials attended Otaki racecourse for the purpose of conducting drug testing on persons riding trackwork that morning.

 

6  The defendant Sam Robbins-Ambrose was one of those people selected to be tested.  She was approached by Senior Stipendiary Steward Ross Neal after leaving the training track and served with the appropriate notice and directed to attend the testing station prior to leaving the course that day.

 

7  The defendant is the holder of a “Class A Miscellaneous Stablehand Non Riding Licence” and had been licensed since 2004 (as advised by Miss Robbins-Ambrose and not 1997 as per NZTR’s records) and was riding a horse for her employer Miss Rachel Frost as permitted under the terms of her license notwithstanding the words “Non Riding License” being part of the licence name.

 

8  The defendant duly attended the testing station as requested a supplied a sample of her urine at 9.43am.  This sample was given the ID number 480548.

 

9  The sample along with other samples was delivered to the Institute of Environmental Scientific and Research Ltd (ESR) Laboratory in Wellington by Senior Steward Neal on 1 September 2010 ie the following day.

 

10  On Monday 6 September 2010 NZTR received written notification from the ESR that the sample provided by Miss Robbins-Ambrose (ID 480548) contained the presence of Cannabis.  This provided a positive result and a certificate to this effect was provided in Mr Neal’s evidence.

 

11  On Tuesday 14 September 2010 Miss Robbins-Ambrose was handed a copy of the ESR certificate and she was also handed a “stand-down” notice pursuant to Rule 657 (1)(b) A copy of the “stand-down” notice was produced in evidence.  The notice was dated 13 September 2010 but given to Miss Robbins-Ambrose on 14 September 2010.

 

12  Miss Robbins-Ambrose when interviewed stated she had imbibed in Cannabis at a party some 3 weeks prior to the date of the testing and this was the reason for the drug being in her system.

 

13  During the process of testing and subsequent interview Miss Robbins-Ambrose was totally co-operative and provided open and honest answers at all times.

 

14  Miss Robbins-Ambrose did not dispute any of the matters set out in the summary of facts.  She said it was a one-off occurrence and didn’t realise that it was going to affect her work life. She said she was not aware of the fact that once taken cannabis remains within the system for some considerable time.

 

SUBMISSIONS ON PENALTY BY MR NEAL

 

15  Mr Neal said that NZTR commenced drug testing riders in 1995 and since that time all riders have been made clearly aware that when they present themselves to ride horses, whether it is for track work or in races that an absolute obligation rests with them to ensure they are free from the influence of any drug or drugs.

 

16  Indeed drug testing of riders is now an important aspect of the New Zealand Thoroughbred Racing industry and it is carried out for the reasons of maintaining both the integrity of the industry and health and safety in the workplace.

 

17  In addition to the workplace and integrity aspects it is important that riders do not put at undue risk, due to having taken an illicit substance, horses of value and worth to their owners.

 

18  The fact that a rider has an illicit substance present in their system represents a real risk to not only themselves but also those others with whom they interact.

 

19  Racing clubs that operate training facilities are also mindful that they too have an obligation to provide a safe working environment.

 

20  With respect to penalties NZTR has consistently sought suspensions for riders found to have had cannabis detected in their systems.  This approach has been well gazetted and all riders have been made well aware of the potential consequences should they fall foul of the rules.

 

21  More particularly penalties for first time cannabis offenders have, in recent times, been a suspension of the riding component of the offenders’ license ranging from four to eight weeks and a fine in the region of $200.

 

22  With respect to this charge Mr Neal said that there was nothing of significance that necessitates a departure from those penalties imposed over recent times.  He acknowledged that, while the reading was in the lower end, there nevertheless rested with Miss Robbins-Ambrose a strict liability to present herself free of any drugs on the day of testing, a duty which she failed to discharge having tested positive to a class C drug as described in the Misuse of Drugs Act 1975.

 

23  Mr Neal said NZTR was responsible for safeguarding the interests of all participants in thoroughbred racing and also responsible for penalising those who breached the rules.  In relation to this charge Mr Neal said it was NZTR’s position that Miss Robbins-Ambrose’s rider’s licence be suspended from between four to six weeks and that he also sought a fine in the region of $200.  He also supplied the Committee with a listing of recent penalties imposed for similar breaches of rule 656(3) – which showed that suspension penalties ranged from four weeks up to six weeks.

 

24 In conclusion Mr Neal said Miss Robbins-Ambrose to her credit had cooperated fully with NZTR during the testing and investigation of this matter.

 

SUBMISSIONS ON PENALTY BY MISS ROBBINS-AMBROSE

 

25  Miss Robbins-Ambrose said she was a stable hand who had been riding one horse for one week only to help out her employer.  She said that if she were to be tested then other stable hands should be as well.  She confirmed she did not smoke at all at work and only occasionally outside of work and had not realised that her actions outside of work could impact on her work in the racing industry.  She said that if fined she would have difficulties paying the fine given she was only on a stable hand’s wage.

 

26  In reply Mr Neal said that it was not currently NZTR policy to test stable hands and on the day the testing took place at the Otaki course she was riding track work for her employer.  He also confirmed that if Miss Robbins-Ambrose was fined NZTR would look favourably on an arrangement that would allow her to pay off the fine over an agreed period of time.

 

DECISION AND PENALTY

 

27  In coming to a decision as to penalty the Committee carefully considered all of the evidence put before it as well as the submissions on penalty made by Mr Neal and Miss Robbins-Ambrose.

 

28  We have taken into account Miss Robbins-Ambrose’s full and frank admission of the breach, the cooperation she has shown in her dealings with NZTR and the fact this is her first offence in the six years she has been working in the industry.

 

29 We have also noted the relatively low level of cannabis detected in the sample provided by Miss Robbins-Ambrose (19 nanograms per millilitre compared to the cut-off level of 15 nanograms per millilitre) but we are also satisfied we must impose a penalty that is consistent with the penalties imposed in previous similar cases.  There is a need to maintain integrity and public confidence in racing and to this end the penalty must be a realistic punishment.  The penalty must also show offending in this way will not be tolerated and also must deter other persons in the racing industry from committing similar offences and Miss Robbins-Ambrose from re-offending.

 

30  The committee is agreed Miss Robbins-Ambrose’s breach is at the lower end and reflects the actions of a person who has made a simple mistake rather than those of a habitual user of cannabis.

 

31  In view of the fact that Miss Robbins-Ambrose’s licence was withdrawn on 14 September 2010 we formally reinstate her licence from 23 September 2010.

 

32  Taking all matters into account we are satisfied an appropriate penalty in this case is a suspension of four weeks.  The suspension is to take effect from the date of the issue of the “License Withdrawal Notice” which is 14 September and is to end at midnight on 12 October 2010.  In addition Miss Robbins-Ambrose is fined $200.  Payment of any costs was not sought by NZTR.  As the hearings were held prior to the commencement of racing at the Levin Racing Club’s meeting on 23 September 2010 no costs were sought by the JCA.

 

 

 

 

Paul Williams                            Tom Castles

Chairman                                  Committee Member

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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