Banned trainer Johnson: Someone's got it in for me

Howard Johnson insists he is the victim of a witch-hunt after his licence was revoked for four years on Friday.

Howard Johnson insists he is the victim of a witch-hunt after his licence was revoked for four years on Friday.

The trainer was found in breach of racing’s rules relating to horse welfare, and has retired with immediate effect. His ban means he is unable to work in, or have any involvement in, racing for the period of his suspension.

But Johnson, 58, alleges he was sabotaged by a representative of his training operation at White Lea Farm, whom he claims provided intelligence for financial gain which led to his downfall.

His sense of persecution is exacerbated by a suspected arson attack in 2009 - the third time fire had ravaged White Lea – and a suspected armed robbery last year when Johnson and his wife, Sue, were held at gunpoint.

Johnson said: “I’m convinced someone’s got it in for me, what with an arson attack and an armed robbery, and that someone in my yard is being paid for information to incriminate me. I am not going to appeal and I am retiring.”

Johnson also faced charges of administering steroids to three horses in his care, but was chiefly held accountable for running a horse, Striking Article, eight times after he had undergone a palmar neurectomy.

The procedure involves severing nervous connection to the lower leg to cause numbness. It is banned under the Rules of Racing on welfare grounds.

Reacting to Johnson’s claims, Paul Struthers, head of communications for the British Horseracing Authority, said: “We recognise our responsibilities in handling intelligence and operate accordingly to the National Intelligence Model, which is the standard for British law enforcement agencies.

“Our intelligence unit processes between 300 and 400 intelligence reports a month and where intelligence builds up, and once fully and properly assessed, clearly indicates possible breaches of the Rules of Racing, we will act, as we did in relation to Striking Article.”

The neurectomy to Striking Article’s left-foreleg came to light following a post-mortem carried out after the horse was pulled up and euthanised at Musselburgh on February 7, 2010.

Striking Article underwent the procedure in April 2008, yet ran eight times afterwards.

Johnson said he was unaware of the rule stating he should not have run Striking Article.

He was also charged under a separate investigation in relation to the administration of laurabolin, an anabolic steroid containing nandrolone, to three other horses.

He was disqualified for three years with regard to the neurectomy charges, and one year for the breach relating to the steroid charges.

Johnson, whose principal owner is former Sage computer magnate Graham Wylie, has held a licence since 1984.

“I am absolutely gutted,” added the trainer. “I was only acting in the best interests of the horse – the vets told me that the neurectomy would take away the pain in Striking Article’s heel, but that some feeling would return to the area after a few months.

“He won three races after the operation and, when he was pulled up, he must have felt something, otherwise he would have gone down. I had no idea we had done anything wrong.

“As for the steroids, the horses weren’t in training. As they hadn’t done well over the summer, I thought it sensible to give them a ’pick-me-up’.

“I made no attempt to hide that I’d given the steroids, and there were no positive samples when they were racing.”

Although Johnson is adamant he is retiring, he hopes to convince Wylie, who earlier this month sent six of his better horses to champion jumps trainer Paul Nicholls, to remain in racing.

Wylie on Friday branded the BHA’s decision to ban Johnson for four years as “disgusting”.

Johnson added in a statement issued to Channel 4’s Morning Line programme: “I might try and buy a few foals to have about the place and sell on.

“Graham Wylie says that he’s going to get out of the game altogether, but I’m trying to convince him otherwise.

“I’m meeting with him on Monday, after which I’ll release a further statement as I’ve got plenty to say.”

A BHA inquiry into the matter concluded last week after the disciplinary panel was unable to hear all of the evidence at a two-day hearing in July.

The parties involved were informed of the findings at its conclusion, but any decision on penalty was delayed until all paperwork had been completed by the disciplinary panel, and the results were only made public on Friday.

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