Non Raceday Inquiry – Decision dated 4 September 2021 – Darryn Simpson

ID: RIB4391

Respondent(s):
Darryn Simpson - Trainer

Applicant:
Racing Integrity Board

Adjudicators:
Prof G Hall (Chair) and Mr G Thompson (Member)

Persons Present:
Mr P Meulenbroek, for the Informant, The Respondent in person

Information Number:
A4837

Decision Type:
Adjudicative Decision

Charge:
Misconduct

Rule(s):
303(2) and 1002(1)(a)

Plea:
Admitted

Outcome: Proved

Penalty: Trainer Darryn Simpson is fined $450

DECISION OF ADJUDICATIVE COMMITTEE

[1] The Informant, the RIB, has laid information A4837 with respect to the Respondent, Mr Darryn Simpson, alleging a breach of rr 303(2) and 1002(1)(a).

[2] Rule 303(2) states: “No person or body who holds a permit or licence under these Rules and no owner, trainer, breeder, stablehand, unlicensed apprentice or racing manager shall misconduct himself….”

[3] And r 1002(1)(a) provides: “Every person commits a breach of these Rules who does any act … which is declared or deemed by any of these Rules to be a breach of these Rules.”

[4] The penalty provision is r 1003(1) which states: “A person who commits a breach of any Rule shall be liable to the following penalties: A fine not exceeding $10,000; and/or to be disqualified or suspended from holding or obtaining a licence for any specific period not exceeding 12 months.”

[5] There has been a lengthy history with respect to the hearing of this matter.

[6] A number of teleconferences with the parties have been held. The latest was on 16 July last. Mr Simpson stated at this teleconference that he admitted the charge. He commented he believed he was being treated unfairly and that the Complainant in this matter should also have been charged. The Committee advised Mr Simpson, as it had at a previous teleconference, to take legal advice or to discuss the matter with another Licence Holder. He was also told that if, after so doing, he wished to change his plea, he should contact the Executive Officer of the RIB, Mrs Hutton, by Monday 19 July.

[7] Mrs Hutton did not receive any communication from Mr Simpson by Monday 19 July, and we issued a Minute dated 20 July setting the matter down for hearing at Forbury Park on Thursday 22 July at 12.30 pm.

[8] Upon receipt of this Minute, Mr Simpson spoke to Mrs Ward in the RIB Office. He told her he would not attend the hearing on 22 July and wanted the matter to be dealt with on the papers. This was contrary to his assertions to the Committee at the 16 July teleconference and in previous conferences that he wished to be able to make oral submissions.

[9] At the request of the Committee, the Executive Officer of the RIB and Mrs Ward have made repeated attempts by telephone and text to obtain from Mr Simpson written confirmation that he wishes the matter to be dealt with on the papers.

[10] Mr Simpson has not responded to these RIB communications in writing but has confirmed orally that he wishes the matter to be dealt with on the papers.

[11] Mr Meulenbroek has informed the Committee that he has provided Mr Simpson with an amended copy of the summary of facts (as agreed at the teleconference) and the RIB’s penalty submissions. At Mr Simpson’s request, he has also obtained a copy of the Minutes of a Special General Meeting of the Forbury Park TC that was held on 25 May 2021. The Committee and Mr Simpson have these Minutes.

[12] At the further request of the Committee, the Executive Officer of the RIB and Mrs Ward have made repeated attempts by telephone and text to obtain penalty submissions from Mr Simpson. These have not been successful, and the Committee has been told that Mr Simpson has said to Mrs Ward that the history of the matter is public knowledge and is thus known to the Committee.

[13] We proceed on the basis of the summary of facts provided by the Informant. We also have the benefit of penalty submissions from the RIB.

Summary of facts

[14] A Special General Meeting of the Forbury Park Trotting Club was held on Tuesday 25 May 2021. The Respondent, Mr Simpson, was there and he believed that Racing Official and Board Member Mr Denton had criticised him unfairly publicly at the meeting over matters that had nothing to do with the meeting, and also had brought Mr Simpson’s daughter into it. He said that without having named him, it was obvious to everyone present who was being talked about in such a negative way. Mr Simpson’s mother was also present at the meeting.

[15] Mr Simpson said he had struggled with what had been said. He could not sleep afterwards and had been stewing on it over several days.

[16] Six days later, at approximately 11.30 am on Monday 31 May 2021 at the Forbury Park Racetrack Mr Simpson encountered Martin Denton, who also trains horses at Forbury, while they walked towards each other along the alleyway by the stables area.

[17] Mr Simpson saw this as an opportunity to tell Mr Denton what he thought of his actions, to tell him “a few hard truths” and to let him know that he had had enough. He also mentioned other matters that had occurred over the years, saying, “there’s a long raft of things” that had happened, which had led to a toxic relationship between the two men.

[18] Mr Simpson did not see any options for dealing with matters in another way, as he did not feel he had been supported by other Board members on prior occasions.

[19] Mr Simpson walked across and up close to Mr Denton and got within six inches to a foot or so of his face. Mr Simpson then began to verbally abuse Mr Denton in a very aggressive manner.

[20] Simpson told Mr Denton, “Do you think you’re funny c***? Having a personal attack at me. You queer c***, you’re f****d. [REDACTED] I know you. I’ve f****n got you. You’re f****d”.

[21] At this stage a witness intervened between Mr Simpson and the Complainant and ushered him away. There was nothing further said. The witness believed that he thought the matter was going to turn violent and described Mr Simpson as being in a “have a go stance”.

[22] Mr Denton felt extremely threatened by Mr Simpson’s actions and had said nothing during the verbal attack, only to mention to the bystander that he was a witness to what had just occurred. He has since expressed concern about his ongoing safety on the course which is where he has to train horses as well.

[23] When spoken to about the matter, Mr Simpson acknowledged that it had happened as described. He claimed he had his hands in his pockets and at no point had he intended for any physical interaction to occur.

[24] The Respondent is a 47-year-old Licensed Harness Racing Trainer and Driver operating out of Dunedin. He has been involved in training horses all his life and held a Public Trainer’s and Open Driver’s licence for 21 years.

[25] Mr Simpson has no prior matters involving misconduct or behavioural charges.

Informant’s penalty submissions

[26] The Informant’s submissions set out the sentencing principles. These were:

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

b) In a racing context it is extremely important that the penalty has the effect of deterring others from committing similar offences;

c) A penalty should also reflect the disapproval of the Adjudicative Committee for the type of behaviour in question;

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

[27] Applying the principles that are applicable to disciplinary proceedings and focusing on the maintenance of standards, the Informant submitted that the Committee should consider:

a) The extent to which the Trainer has fallen below the expected standards;

b) The reason or cause the Rule was breached; and

c) What steps could have been taken to modify their practices to ensure, or at least minimise, the risk of the breach re-occurring.

[28] Rule 303(2) covers the conduct of Licence Holders in relation to any matter relating to the Conduct of Racing and is in place to ensure that they conduct themselves in a safe and orderly manner.

[29] The purpose of proceedings before a Judicial Committee pursuant to the Rules of Harness Racing include:

a) to ensure racing is conducted within the Code Rules;

b) to uphold and maintain the high standards expected of those participating in the sport of racing and the racing industry;

c) to uphold and maintain the integrity of the sport of Racing and the Racing Industry;

d) to protect the participants in the sport of Racing, the Racing Industry, and the public.

[30] The RIB considered the aggravating factors to be:

a) Mr Simpson approached a Board member of the Forbury Park Trotting Club in a very aggressive manner and walked up in very close proximity to the person.

b) He has then ‘let loose’ with a tirade of abuse and veiled threats against the Complainant which left him, being considerably smaller in stature and older, feeling extremely threatened and fearing for his physical safety.

d) The approach was not a spur of the moment and reflexive one. Rather, Mr Simpson had been angry for several days beforehand and had decided to take the opportunity to confront the Complainant.

e) The incident occurred at the workplace of the Complainant, who ought to be safe from having to deal with this type of behaviour, especially while at work.

f) Had it not been for the intervention of another employee working nearby, the matter may well have escalated.

g) Mr Simpson has refused to apologise for his actions and believes that his behaviour was warranted because of the grief he had been given by the Club and the Complainant.

[31] The RIB accepts that there has been a history of ill-feeling between Mr Simpson and the Complainant and that the precursor to this matter was something that was said at a Club Special General meeting a week before, to which Mr Simpson took exception.

[32] When spoken to about the matter Mr Simpson freely admitted to the circumstances and details of the incident. Mr Simpson recognised that he needed to remove himself from the toxic work environment that had developed and following this matter he resigned his Club membership and moved his training operation to Oamaru.

[33] Mr Simpson has had a lengthy involvement in Harness Racing as both a Driver and Trainer and is generally well regarded within the community.

[34] The RIB submitted there was no recommended starting point for the charge of misconduct and that previous penalties had been fact dependent. In support of the penalty being sought Mr Meulenbroek identified as relevant cases:

RIU v H Habraken (2020) – abusive language to a Steward — $1250 fine

RIU v B Orange (2020) – abuse towards an RIU official – $1,000 fine

RIU v G Hope (2020) – abusive language to a Steward -— $850 fine

RIU v S Dickson (2017) – abusive language and failing to comply with Steward’s directive – $850 fine

RIU v M Calder (2017) — altercation with another trainer at stables/ physical assault (minor) — fined $850

HRNZ v T Cowan (2011) — scuffle with a security guard — fined $450 plus $250 costs

RIU v L Beagley (2013) — altercation in stable area between trainer/ junior driver — fined $200

RIU v G Anderson (2010) — offensive language in stabling area to a driver — fined $600 plus $200 costs

[35] The Informant submitted the need for the penalty to uphold the integrity of the Racing Industry, to have the effect of deterring others from committing similar breaches, and to reflect the disapproval of the Committee for the type of behaviour.

[36] Taking into account both the aggravating and mitigating factors, the circumstances, together with the penalties provided in earlier cases, the Informant submitted a fine of $600 was the appropriate penalty.

[37] No costs were sought.

Decision

[38] We agree with the Informant that the imposition of penalty for a breach of the misconduct Rule is very fact dependent. We thus pay close attention to the circumstances of the breach.

[39] The incident occurred at a time when there was some angst within the Dunedin Harness community concerning the then imminent closure of the Forbury Park Racecourse.  The Respondent took umbrage at comments that were made at a Special General Meeting of the Forbury Park Trotting Club Inc that was called at that time.

[40] The recipient of Mr Simpson’s abuse, Mr Denton, is a member of the Management Board. Mr Simpson stated, when interviewed by Mr Meulenbroek on 2 June, that there is a history of animosity between the two. Mr Simpson said Mr Denton had a vendetta against him and his principal owner. Mr Denton spoke at the Special General Meeting and referred to an earlier incident at the course which involved damage being caused to a gate exiting the track. The Trackside commentator apparently commented that a little girl was having trouble opening the gate to permit the horses to leave the track after the race and return to the stabling area. This little girl was in fact the Respondent’s young teenage daughter who was tasked with this duty by the Club. Mr Simpson was incensed that Mr Denton referred to this incident at the meeting and said that Mr Simpson did “nothing around the place”, as Mr Simpson said there were two caretakers on the course who could repair any damage and, in the past, he had paid for damage that he accepted he had accidentally caused to an electric unit and to another gate.

[41] We note that Mr Simpson had previously been evicted from Forbury Park in circumstances which he believed were unfair. Again, he believed Mr Denton had had a role in this, although he also believed the Chairman of the Board had not acted at that time in a professional manner.

[42] When Mr Simpson encountered Mr Denton in an alleyway by the stables area at Forbury Park some six days after this meeting, these matters surfaced, and he responded by confronting and verbally abusing Mr Denton. He positioned himself face-to-face with Mr Denton in a close and threatening manner. Hence the charge and the admitted breach.

[43] Also upsetting Mr Simpson at this time, was the decision of Forbury Park Trotting Club to require him to cease training at the track. He said he had been given only five weeks’ notice to vacate, which was in breach of the contract he had with the Club. HRNZ had had to step in on his behalf.

[44] In a telephone conference Mr Simpson acknowledged he should not have behaved as he did, but he reiterated his concerns about Mr Denton’s comments concerning his daughter. He has not made further submissions, but we accept the statement in the Informant’s submission that this breach is out of character. However, we also note the unacceptable nature of the language used, and that Mr Denton has expressed concerns about his ongoing safety. We also emphasise there is nothing before this Committee that would support the allegations that Mr Simpson has made against Mr Denton, the Chairman, or the Board.

[45] The penalties in the cases cited to us by the Informant range from $1250 to $250. They are of little assistance. As we say, each breach is fact dependent.

[46] We take the $600 fine that the Informant submits is an appropriate penalty as the starting point in this matter. We believe this fairly reflects the background issues and the Respondent’s conduct, which is totally unacceptable for a Licence Holder. It reflects poorly on the Respondent and does little to uphold the integrity of the Industry, although we do note in that latter context, that this was not a raceday incident. However, this is no way for a Trainer to behave when interacting with a fellow Trainer, and in this case, a Board member, on the course, notwithstanding any feelings that might be harboured that he and his family had been slighted. We note that subsequent to this incident Mr Simpson removed himself from the likelihood of any further confrontation by resigning his Club membership and moving his training operation to Oamaru.

[47] We give a 25 per cent discount for the Respondent’s admission of the breach, which was not at the earliest opportunity, his good character, and for the absence of any previous breach of this rule in his 30 years in the industry.

[48] Thus, the fine is one of $450.

[49] The Informant has made no application for costs. Having regard to the history of the matter, we believe a small contribution to the costs of the Adjudicative Committee is both just and reasonable. We order costs in the sum of $100.

Dated at Dunedin this 2nd day of September 2021.

Geoff Hall, Chairman

 

Decision revised and para 39 amended 4th September (Geoff Hall, Chairman)

Decision Date: 04/09/2021

Publish Date: 06/09/2021