The sense of controversy surrounding Team Sky and British Cycling has calmed somewhat in the past 10 months, following the conclusion of separate investigations by the UK Anti-Doping Agency (UKAD) and the UK Parliament’s Department for Culture, Media, and Sport (DCMS). Yet things are set to flare up again this week, as Dr. Richard Freeman faces a medical tribunal that could see him stripped of his right to practise.
On the seventh floor of the St James’s Buildings in central Manchester on Wednesday, Freeman, who worked for both organisations between 2009 and 2015, will take a seat in front of a panel of independent arbitrators from the Medical Practitioners’ Tribunal Service (MPTS) to answer to a misconduct case brought by the General Medical Council (GMC).
Over the course of the next month, he will be grilled over the testosterone gels that were delivered to British Cycling and Team Sky HQ in 2011, along with a number of other issues, including his approach to prescription medication, his private treatment of colleagues, and his record keeping.
The tribunal will look into Freeman’s previous explanations for the Testogel delivery. In March 2017, Dr Steve Peters, former head of medicine at both British Cycling and Team Sky, told the Sunday Times that he was immediately made aware of the delivery and that Freeman told him he had not placed the order and so it must have been sent in error. Peters requested Freeman return the package and obtain written confirmation of receipt from the supplier, and said this had been done, though the BBC revealed last month that email confirmation from the supplier only arrived in October, five months after the delivery.
“It is further alleged Dr Freeman’s motive for his actions, in respect of the untrue statements and communications with Fit4Sport Limited, were to conceal his motive for placing the order,” states the MPTS case summary.
The tribunal will also examine allegations that Freeman “inappropriately” provided treatment to non-athlete members of staff, that his management of prescription-only medication was “inappropriate”, and that he “failed to inform three patients’ GPs of medication prescribed and reasons for prescribing”. Dave Brailsford, the Team Sky boss and former British Cycling performance director, has admitted that Freeman injected him with triamcinolone, the corticosteroid used controversially by Wiggins under TUEs.
The tribunal will also assess Freeman’s record keeping, which came under intense scrutiny during the UKAD investigation and Parliament inquiry. A laptop containing, among other things, records of the mystery ‘jiffy bag’ delivered from British Cycling HQ to the Team Sky bus at the 2011 Critérium du Dauphiné, was stolen in August 2014 and the contents were not backed up.
The tribunal process
The GMC is not examining Freeman, as such, but has built a case that is being put in front of the MPTS, an independent arbitration body. In the first phase of the tribunal, a representative from the GMC will set out its case, detailing the allegations and presenting its evidence, which includes calling upon witnesses. Freeman can cross-examine the GMC witnesses but will then be able to set out his own case in the next phase, presenting his own evidence and calling his own witnesses.
Freeman started working at British Cycling and Team Sky in 2009, having previously worked in football at Bolton Wanderers, and before that as a general practitioner.