Richard Freeman has said he feels he’s been made a scapegoat amid new claims that Shane Sutton warned that Freeman, Dave Brailsford, and Bradley Wiggins were “all finished” over the notorious jiffy bag scandal.
The medical tribunal for the former British Cycling and Team Sky doctor continued on Monday, with Freeman being quizzed on testosterone and triamcinolone and insisting, “I never doped a rider.”
Monday’s hearing came after new witness statements were released by Freeman’s legal team over the weekend. As well as revealing that unregulated medical treatment of staff members was “considered a marginal gain,” the new statements allege former coach Sutton leaked the jiffy bag story in apparent retaliation for the part he felt Freeman played in his “downfall.”
In April 2016, Sutton resigned from British Cycling while suspended over an investigation into allegations of discrimination.
Later that year, it emerged via the Daily Mail that a jiffy bag had been couriered from the National Cycling Centre to the Team Sky bus at the Critérium du Dauphiné in 2011, allegedly containing triamcinolone – banned without a TUE – and allegedly administered to Bradley Wiggins. Brailsford later claimed it contained the legal asthma drug fluimucil, but that has never been confirmed and UK Anti-Doping had to close their investigation over a lack of medical records.
“In September 2016 I received several phone calls from him, in an agitated state, blaming me for his downfall. In the last call he told me he had spoken to a journalist who was going to run a story regarding an illegal injection in the bus at Sestriere in 2011, and that we were all finished. He said this related to myself, Sir Dave Brailsford and Sir Bradley Wiggins. I was devastated. I blocked his phone number,” Freeman revealed in his new statements, according to the Guardian.
“Shortly after, he called me from his partner’s phone. I answered it as she had previously asked for medical advice. It was Shane Sutton ranting and threatening, I put the phone down and blocked that number. When the Daily Mail story broke in Oct 2016 regarding the race in Sestriere in 2011, it came as no surprise that the allegation was made about me and I assumed that Shane Sutton was the source.”
Freeman attributed Sutton’s grievances to his complaints to the British Cycling board over what he termed a “misuse of British Cycling resources” by Sutton. Freeman claims Sutton benefited from £6,000 of cosmetic dentistry from the organisation’s dentist, as well as obtaining funding for a three-year physiotherapy degree for a masseuse, and free MR scans for staff members’ families.
“I now recognise that these attempts at whistleblowing were highly likely to have been reported to Mr Sutton and as a result would have caused further damage to our relationship,” Freeman said.
“This occurred to me when later Mr Sutton showed me the email trail from UK Sport to British Cycling ‘re’ a whistleblowing statement made about himself (which UK Sport treated as a grievance and returned to British Cycling), which he wrongly believed that either myself or Phil Burt had sent. “He confronted both of us together stating he knew it was one of us and that he would seize our laptops and phones to prove it. Both Phil and I were shocked at his outburst and threats made during that intimidating exchange.”
According to the BBC, Freeman said Sutton demanded he confess to blowing the whistle, adding: “I refused and he said that was it, ‘you’re finished’.”
Testosterone and triamcinolone
When the tribunal resumed on Monday, Freeman, who is facing charges from the General Medical Council (GMC) of ordering banned substance testosterone ‘knowing or believing’ it was for a rider, was asked if he felt he’d been made a scapegoat in the British Cycling and Team Sky fall-out.
“On reflection, I’ve got no sense of entitlement. I did make some medical mistakes, which I’ve admitted to,” he said, according to the Press Association. “I don’t believe I was ever the prime target of Jiffygate. I think I’ve been caught in the middle of some things so yes I do feel I’ve been made a scapegoat.”
On Monday, Freeman was quizzed by the GMC on the use of both testosterone and triamcinolone. Referring to his time at Bolton Wanderers Football Club, he described the search for signs of under-recovery as the “holy grail”, but hit back when it was suggested he was looking for low testosterone levels with a view to artificially increasing them.
“I find that allegation or summary offensive,” he said, according to PA. “I have never doped a rider. I would never consider it. I would never consider supplementing with testosterone at any time.”
Similarly, he denied that Sutton had ever bullied him into doping riders. “He never suggested doping a rider. I’ve got my problems with Mr Sutton, and I still have my fear of Mr Sutton. Mr Sutton never asked me to dope a rider, ever.”
As for triamcinolone, a corticosteroid that former dopers have admitted to abusing in the past, Freeman denied it was a performance enhancer, pointing to several TUEs granted by UK Anti-Doping’s for allergic rhinitis in 2010. “There is a lot of talk about the often by pseudo scientists or ex-dopers,” Freeman said, according to the Guardian’s Sean Ingle. “I don’t take much stock in their opinion.”
While he held firm over his treatment of riders, insisting he never crossed ‘the line’ – the title of his 2018 book – Freeman did acknowledge shortcomings in his treatment of staff at British Cycling and Team Sky.
In his new witness statements, Freeman conceded his treatment of 17 staff members with free medication – which included an injection of triamcinolone for Brailsford, steroid pellets for another member of staff, and blood pressure medication for a rider’s wife – went beyond his duty of care.
“I did not feel able to refuse the request for help,” he said, according to the BBC. “I now accept… that treatment of staff, family and friends should be limited to emergency situations only.”
Freeman went on to claim this was a result of the culture already in place, where such treatment “was considered a marginal gain by management”. He singled out head of medicine Steve Peters for “encouraging autonomy which led to professional isolation”, going on to claim Peters requested his own treatment not be advised to his GP.
“At London 2012 he instructed use of our equipment and use our own clinical facilities in our accommodation block, instead of using those provided by the British Olympic Association [BOA],” Freeman said. “This institutionalised attitude continued through to Rio 2106 and did not foster good relationships between BC [British Cycling] and the sports medicine establishments of the BOA and EIS [English Institute of Sport].”