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Freeman tribunal delayed until next week

Dr. Richard Freeman ahead of the 2016 Rio Olympics

Dr. Richard Freeman ahead of the 2016 Rio Olympics (Image credit: Getty Images)

There has been a further delay in the medical tribunal that will assess Dr. Richard Freeman's fitness to practise and explore doping allegations during his time at Team Sky and British Cycling.

Having been immediately adjourned for 48 hours when the process opened in Manchester on Wednesday, the tribunal reconvened in private on Friday morning and will spend the whole day discussing another preliminary application before the hearing proper can begin.

Freeman, who is charged by the General Medical Council (GMC) with a number of allegations, among them ordering the banned substance testosterone to administer to a rider, has so far not appeared at the tribunal that could see him struck off the medical register.

In his absence, he is represented by lawyer Mary O'Rourke QC, who, on Wednesday, immediately requested the tribunal go into private session so she could make the application for the 48-hour adjournment. On Friday morning a further preliminary application was tabled, though it has not been revealed if it's another request for adjournment or another matter.

Either way, while the adjournment was granted within a couple of hours, it is expected to take the three-person tribunal panel at least a whole day to examine this latest submission, which involves legal argument. Both the GMC, who have brought the case to the independent tribunal service, and Freeman's representatives were invited to submit documents to be read on Thursday and used in session on Friday.

It is expected that the tribunal will still be considering this matter well into Monday, meaning the hearing proper - which sees the GMC set out its case against Freeman before he presents his defence - can only get going on Monday afternoon or Tuesday morning at the very earliest.

The latest application could be related to Freeman's health, given it is being heard in private. Medical tribunals are held in public but certain parts can be heard in private, either on health grounds, or in exceptional circumstances that outweigh the public interest.

Freeman's struggles with mental health problems, including severe depression and suicidal thoughts, are well documented, and prevented him from giving evidence in person to the UK Parliament Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) select committee inquiry into doping in sport in 2017. He also provided his evidence to the UK Anti-Doping investigation in writing, and more recently pulled out of appearing at the employment tribunal for British track rider Jess Varnish.

In June 2011 Freeman took delivery of a package containing 30 sachets of testosterone gel at the Team Sky and British Cycling HQ in Manchester. It is alleged that Freeman's motive for placing the order was "to administer to an athlete to improve their athletic performance". Testosterone is banned in and out of competition under the World Anti-Doping Agency's rules and, if the General Medical Council (GMC) can stand up the allegation, it would represent a significant blow to the reputations of Team Sky and British Cycling.

The tribunal is also set to examine Freeman's previous explanations for the delivery, including that it was sent in error and that it was intended for use by a non-athlete, as well as his approach to prescription medication, his treatment of colleagues without informing their GPs, and his record keeping.

Freeman is not required to attend his tribunal in person. It is not clear whether he will appear later in the tribunal, but for now he is being represented by O'Rourke, a prominent QC with high-profile experience in the field, having acted as the defence for the doctor in the Baby P case and Dr Eva Carneiro after her dismissal from Chelsea Football Club.