Former Team Sky and British Cycling doctor Richard Freeman has been found guilty of ordering the banned drug testosterone “knowing or believing” it was to be given to an unnamed rider to improve their athletic performance.
The 46-page verdict was handed down at the end of the long Medical Practitioners Tribunal (MPTS) hearing in Manchester on Friday.
Freeman was accused of ordering 30 sachets of Testogel to the national velodrome in Manchester in May 2011 in order to help boost an unknown rider’s performance. The rider in question has never been identified.
The tribunal found that Freeman "placed the order and obtained the Testogel" and that he did so "knowing or believing it was to be administered to an athlete to improve their athletic performance."
According to the Guardian, the chair of the MPTS, Neil Dalton said: “The tribunal had found that you, Dr Freeman placed the order, and obtained the Testogel, knowing or believing it was to be administered to an athlete to improve their athletic performance. The motive for your action was to conceal a conduct.”
After initially stating that he had not placed the order, and then that it had been made in error, Freeman finally admitted to ordering the banned drug. He also admitted to 18 of 22 charges against him, which included lying after attempting to cover up the order and lying to a UK Anti-Doping (UKAD) investigation. During the hearing he claimed the Testogel was intended for head coach Shane Sutton to help treat his erectile dysfunction. Sutton denied this and claimed Freeman was lying.
The hearing found that Freeman's attempts to cover up his actions were 'to conceal your motive conduct'.
In relation to Freeman's claim that the drug was for Sutton, the tribunal found his story both dishonest and 'without innocent explanation.
The full verdict stated: "Overall, then, taking all those factors into account, and bearing in mind the breadth of Dr Freeman’s dishonesty and the number of people he had pulled into it (Ms Meats, Dr Peters and Mr Sutton), the Tribunal found his conduct incapable of innocent explanation. It was clear that, on the balance of probabilities, the inference could properly be drawn that when Dr Freeman placed the order and obtained the Testogel, he knew or believed it was to be administered to an athlete to improve their athletic performance."
The tribunal also stated that: "Much of his [Freeman's - ed] dishonesty is captured in the admitted matters, and in those facts now found proved, but there are other areas where the Tribunal also considers his account has been untruthful. For example, Dr Freeman had insisted forcefully – and on the basis of detailed argument - that the 2017 ’Testogel’ interview Dr Peters undertook with a national newspaper had not occurred at his bidding (as Dr Peters had claimed) but wholly of Dr Peters’ own volition. Finally, though, under questions from the Tribunal, he abandoned that position, stating ‘I was confused and mistaken’. The Tribunal considered that his account of this in his main statement (and as renewed in his updated third statement) was another falsehood."
The hearing has now adjourned until March 17 when it will resume at the second stage for the tribunal to consider whether Freeman's fitness to practice is impaired.
The often farcical and tense hearings in Manchester ran for two years due to a series of delays and complications due to Freeman’s health, legal battles and the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Testogel purchase took place in the second year of Team Sky's existence, when it hired a number of experienced cycling doctors and fought to be competitive at WorldTour level after a difficult first season.
In his closing submissions, Simon Jackson, for the GMC, had said there was no evidence the Testogel was clinically indicated for Shane Sutton and he dismissed Dr Freeman’s claims that he’d been “bullied” into placing the order by the coach.
Jackson told the tribunal that Freeman had repeatedly told lies and tried to cover up his real reasons for placing the order, involving others in his “web of deceit”.
He said the doctor had been under pressure to achieve success and wanted to demonstrate he was a “risk-taker”.
In turn, Dr Freeman’s QC Mary O’Rourke said he wasn’t the "slippery, devious monster” he had been portrayed. She said the GMC had used “smoke and mirrors” in its case against him, and there was no proof he’d ordered the Testogel to dope a rider, or who the rider was.
“It’s all surmise and speculation,” she claimed.
She also accused the GMC of changing the case against Freeman at the 11th hour.
UK Anti-Doping, which first heard of the testosterone delivery and forwarded evidence to the GMC, charged Freeman with "possession of a prohibited substance" and "tampering or attempted tampering with any part of doping control" when the tribunal hearings wrapped up.
According to a report in the Times, it is understood that Freeman has denied the first of the two charges but has admitted to lying to Ukad investigators, which amounts to tampering with an anti-doping investigation. Freeman is facing up to a four-year ban if found guilty.
Freeman resigned from British Cycling in 2017, but was charged by the GMC two years later. Under the statute of limitations, UK Anti-Doping had until May this year to charge Freeman.
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