Opinion: Bugged phone calls and big betting

Photo: Photo by Martin Hunter/Getty Images
Photo: Photo by Martin Hunter/Getty Images
Another step in the long running saga of a police undercover operation which led to an investigation into the harness racing industry has come and gone.

As we reveal, phone conversations between one of Canterbury’s leading harness trainers Nigel McGrath and a high profile Canterbury businessman are now public.

The businessman is associated with McGrath’s stable and the conversations bugged by police effectively revolve around two horses trained by McGrath in a race at Addington Raceway in March 2018.

One of the horses, Star Commander, was driven by McGrath.

The allegation was McGrath did not give Star Commander every chance to win the race, driving in a manner which would benefit his other horse Sheriff.

In the phone conversations, the businessman, a big punter, is told he doesn’t have to worry about Star Commander. That was taken as a clear steer by the police and the Racing Integrity Unit – the racing industry’s investigative body – which horse the businessman should bet on.

And that is not allowed.

Betting records showed the businessman wagered $27,000 on Sheriff, which won, for a return of $37,000.

The businessman, who appears in the district court next month on criminal charges relating to the police investigation, has interim name suppression.

A criminal charge against McGrath of race fixing relating to the race was dropped. During behind-the-scenes discussions with the prosecution and McGrath’s lawyer, it was agreed the recordings could be used in evidence in the subsequent prosecution by the RIU in a racing industry Judicial Control Authority hearing.

That became a grey area later when McGrath’s lawyer tried unsuccessfully to bury the recordings at the hearing.

McGrath pleaded guilty on the second day of the JCA hearing to one of two charges preferred against him. The more serious charge was then dropped by the RIU and McGrath was banned from driving for six months.

McGrath would later tell his owners in a letter the ban was of no consequence because he hadn’t driven for nearly a year.

Former High Court judge Warwick Gendall who chaired the hearing was highly critical of McGrath.

In his summing up he said the industry was being put on notice that it needed to clean its act up.

But think about this: A number of well known drivers gave written evidence for McGrath saying in their expert opinions, they could see nothing wrong with McGrath’s drive on Star Commander, the charge he would later plead guilty to.

So will Gendall’s comments have any impact at all?




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