A Cyclingnews investigation has revealed that UK Anti-Doping (UKAD) failed to properly investigate a historic doping allegation against Shane Sutton. This has allowed the claim to be repeated down the years to the detriment of the sport and of all those affected by it.
The anti-doping body has never contacted several potential witnesses relating to a doping allegation made against the former Technical Director and lead coach of British Cycling and Team Sky, Shane Sutton.
The allegation was first made in 2012 and came from a rider who claims to have seen Sutton doping ahead of a criterium in the UK in 1988. There were also later claims that he must have been aware of others doping in cycling. These allegations are strongly denied by Sutton, but UKAD has never cleared them up.
As a result of a Cyclingnews investigation, UKAD, which states that it is "working for everyone who loves sport", faces tough questions over its duty to uphold clean sport and to support both those who stand accused and potential whistleblowers by fully investigating allegations and putting them to bed one way or the other.
The revelations of UKAD’s failures come after Cyclingnews uncovered that UKAD had failed to contact potential witnesses when looking into doping allegations relating to the Linda McCartney racing team of the late 1990s and very early 2000s. Our recent investigation once again raises serious questions about the efficacy of the anti-doping body. As with the McCartney case, actions alleged to have taken place more than 10 years prior can’t lead to a sanction, but there is nothing to stop anti-doping bodies from looking into claims of historic offences.
The allegation was first presented to UKAD in 2012 and 2013 by two entirely separate indirect sources, each unaware that the other was presenting similar accounts, within weeks of each other. Cyclingnews has found that, of four people UKAD was told may have relevant information about the alleged incident, only one, Keith Lambert, has been directly contacted by UKAD. He cleared Sutton, telling Cyclingnews he never saw Sutton doping.
Despite Sutton holding prominent roles at both British Cycling and Team Sky from the early 2000s, and remaining on Team Sky’s payroll until 2017, UKAD appears to have decided not to move forward with a full investigation. UKAD declined to directly answer a series of questions posed to them by Cyclingnews, insisting that it is not able to 'comment on direct questions'. It would not even confirm if it had investigated the allegation.
UKAD’s failure to deal publicly with the claim raises concerns over how the anti-doping body may have failed in its duty to Sutton, to the 'whistleblowers', to cycling, and to sport in general. It has left Sutton without the opportunity to clear his name; has surely undermined the confidence whistleblowers have in its processes; and has left the sport exposed to damaging repeated airings of an allegation that should have long since been dealt with. More should have been done by the organisation that states it is "responsible for creating a UK-wide environment of confidence in clean sport".
Sutton stood before a parliamentary select committee (DCMS) in 2016 which was looking into the infamous 'jiffy bag' claims, and stated that he had never witnessed doping in professional sport. The Chair of the committee, Damian Collins MP, asked Sutton directly at the time: "Have you had experience of being around people that were doping, of seeing doping in cycling, either as a rider or as a coach, earlier in your career?" To which Sutton emphatically replied: "No."
The UKAD investigation into the jiffy-bag claims saw the anti-doping body interview 37 separate witnesses. The investigation was closed, with no anti-doping rule violations issued as a result.
After Sutton denied any knowledge of or having experienced any sign of doping within his over 30 years of exposure to professional cycling, a former teammate of Sutton’s from 1988, Darryl Webster, provided a written statement to the DCMS in January 2017 in which he repeated the allegation UKAD already knew about, namely that he had seen "[Sutton] injecting drugs, with one incident in particular standing out in my memory. It was 1988 and we were riding at a 'crit' (criterium) race at Windermere."
The statement and its seemingly untested allegation resurfaced again during the recent medical tribunal of the former British Cycling and Team Sky doctor Richard Freeman, though the tribunal decided not to admit it as evidence.
Separately, another witness, who did appear at the Freeman hearing, and who was also a teammate of Sutton’s in 1987, Květoslav Palov, also claimed to have information relating to Sutton’s firm denial that he knew nothing about doping in cycling. Palov wrote in his written statement to Collins: "Shane said he had no knowledge of drugs in sport. Given I was a witness to drugs in the Tour de France, syringes in the toilet, it’s a bit hard to say that."
Both Palov and Webster have informed Cyclingnews that UKAD had never been in contact with them about these claims.
Cyclingnews has also learned that Collins told at least one former British Cycling employee via email in 2018, before the Committee ceased work on this issue, that the statements relating to Sutton were, in his words, "still part of the work of the committee" and that "just because we are not addressing them in this report, it does not mean that we are not going to". No more was heard from them.
UKAD’s knowledge in 2012 and 2013
Before the DCMS hearings, the well-respected Mail on Sunday journalist Nick Harris brought Webster’s name forward to UKAD as a potential person of interest. That was in late 2012 and revealed in Tony Cooke’s statement in the Freeman hearing. Harris visited UKAD in December of that year and presented Webster’s account of the Windermere incident. Cyclingnews understands that Harris claimed to have another person too who was willing to speak to UKAD.
In January 2013, Harris submitted a 6,000-word dossier of evidence to UKAD, at its request, detailing the individuals, together with their contact details, he had given verbally in December. Harris was never contacted by UKAD again and neither was the other person he identified.
Palov was asked to appear at the Freeman hearing as a witness for the defence. He repeated what he had said in his DCMS statement, namely that: "Shane said he had no knowledge of drugs in sport. Given I was a witness to drugs in the Tour de France, syringes in the toilet, it’s a bit hard to say that."
His evidence was challenged and Palov clarified to the tribunal that he had not seen Sutton in the toilets where there were syringes, and it was noted that whilst Palov had said the toilets were at a Mcdonald’s restaurant in Edinburgh, there was not a McDonald’s in Edinburgh at the time.
When contacted by Cyclingnews and asked if UKAD had been sent the evidence gathered by the DCMS in relation to Shane Sutton, Collins said: "My understanding was that all the allegations we received during the inquiry had previously been shared with UKAD. I was also in close contact with UKAD throughout the inquiry and discussed with them evidence we had received."
Cyclingnews reached out to Palov for comment. In relation to UKAD, the former rider said: "They have not been in contact. Which is perhaps for the best because I'm not all that fussed on being further involved in this whole thing."
Separate to Harris, the former Olympic champion Nicole Cooke and her father Tony Cooke visited UKAD in April 2013 and independently told the anti-doping body’s intelligence officers what Harris had told them, namely that Webster was willing to go on the record with an allegation. Once again, UKAD failed to contact Sutton’s former teammate.
The meeting with the Cookes had been arranged by the then head of UKAD, Andy Parkinson, after Nicole Cooke had given a passionate retirement speech in which she talked about a 'dark side' within professional cycling. The Cookes were initially sceptical of meeting UKAD after an earlier meeting in 2003 between Tony Cooke and UKAD over other unrelated allegations of doping within cycling had gone nowhere.
"Nicole put out her retirement statement in 2013 and then UKAD reached out to her and she went back to Andy Parkinson to see if they would be useless again and he said that the UKAD were now intelligence-led and that they were miles ahead of where they had been in 2005 and 2006," Tony Cooke told Cyclingnews.
"He said that they were a totally different regime and that they would investigate. Nicole and I wondered if it would all just dovetail into the same way the Linda McCartney story had but we went along and met the two intelligence experts in 2013."
Tony Cooke has told Cyclingnews that when he and Nicole met UKAD, he was surprised by their lack of engagement in what he and his daughter had to say. "UKAD didn’t take any notes during the meeting," Cooke said.
"Maybe they had fantastic memories. Darryl was the only one willing to go on the record. They didn’t even write this down."
Cyclingnews reached out to Parkinson, who left UKAD in 2014, for comment but he simply responded by saying: "That's one for UKAD I'm afraid. Sorry I can't help."
Other avenues UKAD didn't explore
Cooke also told UKAD that Webster told him that several others had been present in the room at the Windermere criterium. They were Jonny Clay, another teammate at the time, and Keith Lambert, the team’s then manager. In his statement to the DCMS, Webster claimed both Clay and Lambert, as well as others, were present in the room.
Cyclingnews contacted Lambert, who until late 2018 was the Great Britain Cycling academy road manager, and he initially told Cyclingnews that UKAD had never contacted him in relation to Shane Sutton.
"They haven’t [been in contact]. Not once," Lambert said.
When asked if they had been in contact regarding Webster, Lambert replied: "UKAD haven’t been in contact about that, no."
He said that UKAD had indeed been to see him around 2018 in relation to a different set of allegations made by Webster. "They came and saw me and asked about an allegation that Darryl Webster had made. That was it. I made a statement, they were happy with that and they told me that I wouldn’t hear from them anymore.
"The Windermere crit? No. That wasn’t the initial thing. It might have come up in conversation. I don’t know. What about the Windermere Crit?
"Things that didn’t happen, you don’t remember, especially when they’re 30-odd years ago," he added. "I can’t remember the Windermere bit. I don’t remember the incident and I don’t remember them asking."
Lambert added he had no suspicions of wrongdoing around Sutton during his racing career.
Clay has told Cyclingnews that he definitely did not see Sutton take any drugs ahead of the criterium. He did confirm that once more UKAD had never been in contact with him and that the only person to ask him about the Windermere allegations was Harris.
"UKAD? No. No one in an official context has contacted me about it. I just got hassled by some journalist about it. That’s all," he told Cyclingnews.
Cyclingnews has contacted Webster, who in 2013 was handed a three-year community order for growing £24,000 worth of cannabis. The former rider confirmed that UKAD had never been in touch, neither when Cooke provided his name to UKAD, nor when Webster provided a written statement to the DCMS in 2017.
"They’ve never been in touch, not about anything. Not once,” Webster said.
Sources have indicated to Cyclingnews that UKAD may have carried out some follow-up work on the Webster allegations, but UKAD were not able to comment on this, or to say whether or not they had cleared Sutton. Certainly, they have never issued any definitive statement on the matter. Doing so would have allowed everyone to move on and would have prevented the damage caused by them remaining at large without having been adjudicated on.
When asked, UKAD would not confirm even if there had been an investigation and said: "We aren’t going to comment on the details of an investigation. It is unusual that UKAD would make any comment on any investigation - the only time we do is when an ADRV (anti-doping rule violation) has been found, and we publish this information."
It added: "We would never publicly 'clear' anyone as this could impact future investigations."
This appears to be the crux of the problem. Surely, when allegations are public, if someone is cleared, UKAD should say so? Perhaps the evidence put to the DCMS and the Freeman hearings may have been different if UKAD had acted earlier.
Cooke also recommended that UKAD approach another former rider, Colin Sturgess, who raced in the 1980s and 1990s. Sturgess confirmed to Cyclingnews that UKAD had never once been in touch with him.
"UKAD told us at the end of the meeting that we should rest assured they’d do something with the information but Nicole and I came out of the meeting and I think Nicole made the joke – that seemed like it was déjà vu all over again. UKAD had not changed - we were, once again, wasting our time," Tony Cooke said.
In his statement to the medical tribunal last November, Cooke added that UKAD was, in his view, unfit to investigate doping in sport.
"Separately I believe that UKAD is not only not fit for purpose. UKAD is a significant part of the problem," he wrote.
When contacted by Cyclingnews and asked whether he felt UKAD had failed in its duty to him by not investigating Webster’s allegations, Sutton declined to provide a statement for publication. But he does and always has strongly denied doping or being aware of others doping in cycling.
Cyclingnews approached UKAD at various stages of our investigation with a series of questions and were told categorically that it as an organisation does not comment on specific or current cases. It reiterated that it interviewed 37 individuals as a part of the 2017 Jiffy-bag investigation and that it treats information delivered to it with the upmost confidence.
"UKAD will not comment on specific investigations. However, we cannot be clearer, people coming to us with their concerns about doping is absolutely vital for clean sport," UKAD’s Director of Operations, Pat Myhill, told Cyclingnews.
"We take every intelligence report seriously and handle information with the highest levels of confidentiality and discretion. To protect the confidentiality of the investigation process it is not always possible to respond or provide updates on lines of investigation which follow an information tip-off.
"At UKAD we have a rigorous process for receiving and handling any intelligence which comes to us, which include the principles of the National Intelligence Model (NIM). Our team is made up of staff with years of senior law-enforcement experience, who have the highest standards of handling intelligence.
"We also know that coming forward to provide information is a brave act. I applaud anyone who does so and remind the public that we have recently published our Whistleblower Policy, outlining the protections which are in place to protect those coming forwards with information."
While the Freeman case rumbles on and allegations surrounding Sutton remain in the public eye, UKAD faces legitimate questions as to why it did not approach several key people who could have helped resolve the 1988 allegation against Sutton. And while the 2017 ‘jiffy bag’ investigation certainly involved a high number of interviews and witness statements, its inability to talk to specific individuals both before 2017 and since - namely Palov, Webster, Cooke, Harris, Clay and Sturgess - fails to bring closure for Sutton, the accusers and cycling as a whole.
Update: UKAD responded directly to Cyclingnews with this statement objecting to the headline used in this article.
"I think the term ‘bungling’ in your headline is unfair and not representative of the UKAD’s actions here," read the statement. "You have presented statements from those involved who have expressed frustrations at their interactions with UKAD, and I think it would be fair to report that.
"But without a full understanding of an investigation, and that these accusations refer to events in 1988, 22 years before UKAD existed, ‘bungling’ is not fair or accurate."
On Friday, UKAD also responded to the article with a statement online, which can be read here (opens in new tab).
"A long and discursive piece but perhaps I may offer some context from the UKAD perspective, in addition to our statement provided to the writer.
"The World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) did not come into existence until the end of 1999 and its first Code was published in 2003. Until then the rules under which anti-doping agencies operated were at best piecemeal and basic. UKAD itself was not established until 2010.
"The article indicates that information had been passed to UKAD about the non-recent events in doping going back to the last century. It is not possible to bring charges under the World Anti-Doping Code for events that took place more than 10 years ago. However, we do of course recognise the value that information on doping in sport has. That information can be used for intelligence and disruption purposes, particularly where investigation is not possible."
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Daniel Benson was the Editor in Chief at Cyclingnews.com between 2008 and 2022. Based in the UK, he joined the Cyclingnews team in 2008 as the site's first UK-based Managing Editor. In that time, he reported on over a dozen editions of the Tour de France, several World Championships, the Tour Down Under, Spring Classics, and the London 2012 Olympic Games. With the help of the excellent editorial team, he ran the coverage on Cyclingnews and has interviewed leading figures in the sport including UCI Presidents and Tour de France winners.