The doctor involved in cycling’s jiffy-bag scandal has pulled out of giving evidence to Jess Varnish’s employment tribunal on legal grounds.
Dr Richard Freeman was due to be a key witness for former GB cyclist Varnish as she attempts to sue British Cycling and UK Sport for wrongful dismissal.
The 28-year-old is also claiming damages for sexual discrimination after she was dropped in 2016.
Varnish’s lawyer David Reade QC said an ongoing General Medical Council investigation into Freeman, a former Team Sky doctor, had caused his legal team to reconsider his attendance.
Freeman is due to appear at a GMC hearing in February to explain how a mystery delivery of testosterone arrived at Team Sky’s headquarters in 2011.
The decision not to appear was announced to the tribunal in Manchester at the start of the afternoon session after doubts surfaced regarding Freeman’s attendance in the morning.
Reade said that Freeman’s witness statement had been provided to the GMC as part of its investigation and they were due to attend the tribunal because “Dr Freeman would be cross-examined to establish his probity”.
“When we informed him of that, he was advised by his legal team that he should not give evidence,” he said.
Thomas Linden QC, representing British Cycling, said he did not accept that argument, stating that Freeman did not have “the courage to be cross-examined or for me to point out to him that his statements are false”.
Linden cited how in 2017 Freeman had failed to turn up to a parliamentary select committee after a “major depressive illness”.
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He also highlighted that the same year, Freeman was allowed to resign from British Cycling rather than face a disciplinary process for his poor record-keeping, as he was still suffering from depression and stress.
Freeman became a controversial figure in British cycling because of his part in the jiffy-bag scandal.
He denied any wrongdoing over a mystery medical package that was delivered to Sir Bradley Wiggins after a race in 2011, despite allegations of the misuse of an anti-inflammatory drug.
Speaking at the release of his book earlier this year, he said the investigation into the jiffy-bag scandal had given him “suicidal thoughts”.
Linden added: “Freeman’s credibility is an issue. He has form for pulling out.”
Coaches threw away Hindes’ Wimbledon invite
Freeman was set to be one of four witnesses for Varnish, who is aiming to establish that she was an employee of British Cycling and UK Sport, and therefore subject to discrimination.
On Tuesday, pregnant Varnish was cross-examined for more than four hours by Linden as she described how British Cycling exerted “extreme control” over her when it came to training, sponsorships and time off.
On Wednesday morning, Varnish’s agent James Harper and her partner and former GB BMX star Liam Phillips backed up her claims.
But both were strongly challenged by Linden, who described parts of Harper’s written statement as “nonsense”, later suggesting to Phillips that he was adding “spin” to his stories.
Harper, who represents Phillips, Varnish and several other athletes, has claimed that British Cycling is “the most aggressive” governing body he works with in terms of controlling the commercial rights of its athletes.
To support this claim, he listed the difficulties he had while trying to do personal deals for Varnish and Shanaze Reade, the multiple BMX and track world champion. He also discussed Ben Swift’s contentious move from Katusha to Team Sky in 2010.
“Other sports are much better developed in protecting their athletes,” wrote Harper. “The level of control exercised by British Cycling is enormous.”
Phillips described double Olympic champion Philip Hindes as an example of how British Cycling exerted its authority.
He said that coaches “threw away” an invitation for Hindes to attend the Royal Box at Wimbledon in 2013 after his success at London 2012, because “it would interfere with his training”.
Under cross-examination, Phillips admitted that once Hindes found out others were attending, he eventually made it to the Grand Slam tennis event but was “furious” about his coaches’ behaviour and was told it would put his selection for a European Under-23 event in jeopardy.
The hearing continues, with Reade getting the chance to cross-examine the witnesses used by British Cycling and UK Sport: the national governing body’s lawyer Matthew Barnes, head coach Iain Dyer, programmes director Andy Harrison and UK Sport chief executive Liz Nicholl.
The hearing is expected to last until 17 December.