Milton Harris has been stripped of his licence after damning findings of dishonesty, bullying a fellow trainer and behaving “inappropriately” with young staff.
A dossier of ferocious criticism against Wiltshire-based Harris has led the British Horseracing Authority’s judicial panel to conclude he is “ungovernable”. The 64-year-old, who has trained over 50 horses at Sutton Veny in the Wylye valley near Warminster, is repeatedly criticised for manipulative behaviour in a lengthy summary.
“We are firmly of the view that the only appropriate conclusion in the light of our findings, the Rules of Racing guidance and the circumstances of the case generally is that MH [Harris] is not a fit and proper person to hold a trainer’s licence because he lacks the personal qualities necessary to do so,” writes a panel led by Sarah Crowther KC, Alison Royston, Kirsty Madden.
Evidence was heard in private, but among 11 findings against Harris was that he “behaved inappropriately and in a manner designed to exert inappropriate control and power over the personal and private lives of young and vulnerable employees in an abuse of trust”.
Harris ‘crossed a line’
“He has caused or permitted a culture to prevail on his yard where more serious safeguarding issues causing real harm could easily occur,” the panel added.
Harris had “crossed a line” towards one member of staff under the age of 16. WhatsApp messages expressing “adult views” and jokes with “sexual innuendos”.
“MH [Harris] suggested these were meant as ‘innocent banter’ but our finding is that these jokes were inappropriate and overstepped the mark,” the panel found.
“We should like to make it plain that we do not think that MH’s conduct with [name redacted] was done for reasons of sexual gratification. However, it was nevertheless inappropriate, because, aside from her age, [name redacted] had additional vulnerabilities, such as her home situation and MH, whether consciously or otherwise, was utilising this to create a situation where [name redacted] was more dependent upon and beholden to MH. It all had potential to isolate her and expose her to MH’s control.”
Other findings against him relate to breaching conditions on being a company director, trading in bloodstock and intimidating neighbouring trainer Simon Earle. Harris said on Wednesday he was “disappointed” by the findings.
Harris, a well-known figure in racing, had his licence withdrawn initially by the BHA in November. From Bromsgrove he started off his working life as a bartender describing himself as a ‘working class kid in a working class pub.’
Initially lost licence in 2011
In 2001 he took out a licence to train at Paxford in Warwickshire but, 10 years later, he was declared bankrupt and stopped from training, something he once summed up as being “asset fine but cash poor and not dealing with it as well as I should have”.
He spent the next seven years fighting to get his licence back and that was finally granted in 2018. In 2021-22 he sent out 56 winners and last season won 55 races. This season he was on course for a best ever season having already sent out 33 winners.
However, after a four-day hearing held behind closed doors, the panel wrote: “In the previous cases before the Licensing Committee, MH has been found to have given dishonest evidence to the Committee, to have been dishonest with the BHA and to lack insight into the purpose of regulation and the effect of his conduct… We find that he has brought nothing new to the table in this case, it is the same story, just with different names of those who are lined up to help.”
Harris was also found to have bullied and harassed Earle and acted inappropriately towards members of staff, including a girl who was “between 14 and 16” at the time. “We consider that Milton Harris is ungovernable, or at least in the regulatory context, not capable of being regulated,” the panel wrote.
Tirades secretly recorded
Earle secretly recorded several confrontations with Harris, during which he used foul and abusive and behaved in a threatening way. Regarding his treatment of the teenage girl on his staff, Harris denied that he had done anything wrong and said he was acting as a father figure.
In a statement sent to the Racing Post, Harris said of the findings: “I have only just received the reasons and obviously I am disappointed. My immediate priority is the staff, some of whom are very long standing, the horses and my owners. That is the focus at the minute.”
However BHA director of integrity Tim Naylor said: “Some of the details in the Licensing Committee’s decision make for extremely uncomfortable reading. Mr Harris’s behaviour over a prolonged period of time fell a long way short of what we expect of a licensed person and, as the Committee found, would cause damage to racing’s reputation if allowed to continue without repercussion. We are, therefore, pleased with the Panel’s finding that Mr Harris is not a fit and proper person to hold a licence.”