The medical tribunal that will assess Dr. Richard Freeman’s fitness to practise could be delayed for several months or even until next year. The General Medical Council hearing of the former Team Sky and British Cycling doctor was due to begin last week but was adjourned at the request of his legal team.
The GMC tribunal is due to examine a number of allegations against Dr. Freeman, including that he ordered the banned substance testosterone in 2011 to administer to a rider. Freeman did not appear at the tribunal in Manchester last week.
The tribunal has resumed this week in private legal argument, but the start of the tribunal proper has been delayed by at least eight days. The BBC and other British media reported that the hearing could ultimately be delayed by several months or even until next year, citing sources from the GMC and the Medical Practitioners Tribunal Service, who believe that the case would not be completed within the four weeks it has been allocated.
The possible timetable for a resumption hearing is complicated by the fact that Freeman’s high-profile barrister, Mary O’Rourke QC, is reported to have a number of other cases scheduled in the coming months.
The delay in proceedings could also prevent UK Anti-Doping from investigating any new evidence uncovered during the hearing relating to the package of 30 sachets of testosterone gel delivered to Team and British Cycling HQ in Manchester in June 2011.
At the time, WADA’s statute of limitations for anti-doping cases was eight years, meaning that the hearing might now take place outside of that timeframe.
It is alleged that Freeman’s motive for placing the order for testosterone was “to administer to an athlete to improve their athletic performance”. Testosterone is banned in and out of competition under WADA rules.
It is expected that the GMC tribunal will 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.
Chairman of the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport parliamentary select committee Damian Collins has questioned the delay in the GMC hearing.
“It is disgraceful that delaying tactics are holding up the work of this important medical tribunal into Dr Richard Freeman’s work for British Cycling and Team Sky,” Collins said, according to the BBC.
Last year the DCMS published a report into doping in British sport which condemned Team Sky’s practices, stating that the team had “crossed an ethical line” with its use of Therapeutic Use Exemptions.
Freeman declined to appear before the DCMS inquiry in December 2016, citing a major depressive illness but did submit written evidence. He also provided written evidence to the UK Anti-Doping investigation and more recently pulled out of appearing at the employment tribunal for British track rider Jess Varnish.