Shane Sutton has decided against returning for a further day of cross-examination at Dr Richard Freeman’s medical tribunal.
The former head coach of Team Sky and British Cycling sensationally stormed out of Tuesday afternoon’s session after denying allegations that he was a “serial liar”, a “bully” and a “doper, with a doping history”.
He later apologised, saying he would consider returning after discussing things with his family. He had been due to spend the whole of Thursday giving further evidence.
However, the Australian was under no legal obligation to return. And after the 90-minute grilling he received from Freeman’s lawyer on Tuesday, he has decided not to attend.
Sutton was the General Medical Council’s star witness in its case against Freeman, who faces charges that he ordered the banned substance Testogel in 2011 with the intention to dope an unnamed cyclist.
In a series of heated exchanges on Tuesday, Mary O’Rourke QC accused Sutton of having doped in his professional career, adding that she had heard from an anonymous whistleblower that he had injected himself with testosterone which he kept in vials in a fridge in his home in Rowley Regis. Sutton called the claims “laughable”, saying that he had never tested positive in more than 100 tests during his professional career. He threatened to sue O’Rourke for defamation.
Freeman, who admits he initially lied about ordering the Testogel, now claims that he was bullied by Sutton into ordering it. He says he did so ostensibly to treat Sutton’s erectile dysfunction. Sutton angrily denied that suggestion, telling O’Rourke: “You are telling the press I can’t get a hard on – my wife wants to testify that you are a b----- liar.”
O’Rourke also said that Sutton had a history of bullying, reading out a “pretty hostile” text message which the Australian sent to her client last year. “Be careful what you say,” it read. “I can drag you in – you won’t be the only person I can hurt.”
Sutton eventually lost his temper completely, addressing Freeman, who was hidden behind a screen while he was giving evidence because he is considered a vulnerable witness, directly. “Richard, you’re a spineless individual,” he said, adding to the hearing that Freeman turned up drunk to work on more than one occasion following a “messy divorce”.
“He was like the Scarlet Pimpernel,” he said. “I covered his backside while he was there. Two critical cases of athletes ill and we couldn’t get hold of him. If you bring Steve Peters in, he would verify it all. I haven’t lied. He’s hiding behind a screen, which is spineless.”
Coincidentally, Peters, the former head of medicine at Team Sky and British Cycling, is the next witness due to give evidence. He has been brought forward to Thursday morning.
Freeman’s legal team will now consider whether to ask for Sutton’s evidence to be struck from the record, taken only in part, or given less weight.
Freeman has accepted 18 of the 22 charges against him, including ordering Testogel, trying to cover his tracks and lying to UK Anti-Doping when questioned about the case.
Meanwhile, former rider Jess Varnish could not resist the temptation to have a little dig at Sutton on Wednesday. Varnish accused Sutton of bullying after she was dropped from British Cycling’s elite programme in 2016. She subsequently went to an employment tribunal, where she lost, in an attempt to pursue a case for sexual discrimination and unfair dismissal.
“Six-hour cross-examination at seven-months pregnant, answered every question and left with head held high,” Varnish wrote on Twitter. “Yesterday: 1.5-hour cross-examination, loses temper, hurls insults, storms out and quits trial. Lesson: Bullies never like a taste of their own medicine #AntiBullyingWeek.”