Dr Richard Freeman’s tribunal unlikely to finish in March as start delayed again
The tribunal will almost certainly not be finished by its initial end date of March 5.
Former British Cycling and Team Sky doctor Richard Freeman’s medical tribunal will not formally start until next Wednesday at the earliest, Press Association Sport understands.
That means the tribunal will almost certainly not be finished by its initial end date of March 5, as at least 10 of the 20 scheduled days will have been taken up by preliminary arguments over an application made to the panel by Dr Freeman’s legal team.
The nature of that application remains private, but it had been hoped that it would be resolved this week with both parties, Freeman’s and the General Medical Council’s (GMC), making final submissions at the Manchester tribunal on Thursday. That has now been pushed back until Friday afternoon and perhaps even Monday morning.
The three-person panel will then decide on the application, the tribunal’s clerk must write it up and both parties informed of the decision – a process that is expected to take two days.
Tribunals of this length are rare, but 20 days were allocated on the basis of the two parties’ witness lists and the assumption that there would be some preliminary argument. The contingency for the latter, however, was exhausted several days ago.
Asked why the tribunal has not started yet, a GMC spokesperson said: “Our position is that we are ready to proceed. Tribunals are public except where they’re considering confidential information, or information about a doctor’s health.”
Press Association Sport understands the tribunal will now have to reconvene later this year, perhaps even in two chunks, as re-listing usually takes two to three months and the various lawyers, panel members and witnesses all have diary issues.
Furthermore, neither side will want their witnesses to start giving evidence if there is no time for that to be completed, as they would effectively be under oath for an unspecified period of time.
This means the speculation surrounding the case could continue throughout the cycling season, potentially hindering Team Sky boss Sir Dave Brailsford’s hopes of finding a sponsor to replace the broadcaster when it stops bankrolling the sport’s most successful outfit at the end of the year.
Dr Freeman is facing several misconduct charges but the most serious is related to a delivery of testosterone, a performance-enhancing drug banned by the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA), to the National Cycling Centre in May 2011, which he then allegedly tried to cover up.
According to pre-hearing information published by the Medical Practitioners Tribunal Service, the GMC claims Dr Freeman obtained the 30 sachets of Testogel “to administer to an athlete to improve their athletic performance”.
The man at the centre of cycling’s ‘Jiffy bag scandal’, which relates to a different delivery to a race in France in 2011, Dr Freeman resigned from British Cycling in October 2017 after he told the governing body he was too ill to face disciplinary action for poor record-keeping.
Struggling with depression, he also failed to appear before a parliamentary inquiry into the Jiffy bag issue in December 2016, pulled out of several interviews with UK Anti-Doping and did not show up to give evidence on behalf of former GB track sprinter Jess Varnish at her employment tribunal in December.
That said, he has been working as a general practitioner in Bolton and was able to publicise a book he wrote on sports medicine last year.
Dr Freeman has denied all doping charges in the past and is understood to want to defend himself against the very real threat of being struck off.
As well as charges related to the testosterone delivery and his apparent attempts to blame it on the suppliers, he also faces charges that he “inappropriately” provided treatment to members of staff at the National Cycling Centre, did not inform their own doctors about it, failed to keep proper records and compromised patient confidentiality.