Dr Richard Freeman tribunal: Lawyers for ex-GB Cycling chief doctor have adjournment request turned down
Lawyers of ex-British Cycling and Team Sky chief doctor Richard Freeman have had a request for a further adjournment to his long-running medical tribunal – so that he can help deliver the Covid mass vaccination programme – turned down.
The General Medical Council (GMC) “strongly opposed” the move by Dr Freeman’s lawyers, saying it risked an “unacceptable” delay.
And the Medical Practitioners Tribunal Service (MPTS) said an adjournment was neither “proportionate or in the interests of justice”.
Almost two years after it started, the much-delayed hearing is scheduled to resume on Friday, when both parties will deliver their closing submissions, with a decision expected in March.
Dr Freeman has denied a GMC charge that he ordered banned testosterone to the national velodrome in 2011 in order to help an athlete to dope.
But in the saga’s latest twist, Dr Freeman’s lawyers wrote to the MPTS last week, arguing for another delay after he was asked by the NHS practice in Lancashire where he now works to help administer Covid-19 vaccinations.
In correspondence seen by the BBC, they explained their client had a “strong commitment to continue his Covid work”.
It added: “We write to request an adjournment… to allow him [Dr Freeman] to undertake the duties that the practice wish him to. We strongly believe that the Covid crisis position should take precedence.”
However, in its response earlier this week, the GMC insisted a delay would mean the hearing “not concluding until sometime in autumn 2021 at the earliest… which would surely be unacceptable to all concerned.”
In correspondence, it also told Dr Freeman’s lawyers they were “in effect, seeking an open-ended adjournment, which is not in our respectful submission a feasible option”.
It also referred to “the long history of this matter, and the compelling need to complete this case, sooner rather than later – including for reasons of Dr Freeman’s own health”.
The MPTS also opposed the request, telling Dr Freeman’s lawyers that they did not consider an adjournment “proportionate or in the interests of justice”.
“While it is undoubtedly important that Dr Freeman carries out his professional obligations to participate in the Covid-19 vaccination programme… it is entirely possible and not unfair for closing submissions to be delivered effectively by both parties in his absence,” the MPTS added in its response.
In a statement released to the BBC, the MPTS said: “Having carefully considered the submissions made by the doctor’s legal representatives and the GMC, and taking into consideration the stage the hearing has reached, an MPTS decision-maker decided that the hearing should go ahead as planned.”
A GMC spokesperson said: “We appreciate the pressure on doctors and health services at this challenging time. But we’re mindful delayed decisions cause additional stress and we need to take a balanced approach.
“Flexible arrangements are in place so that the doctor’s presence is not necessary at this stage of the hearing. This means he can continue to work while representatives make submissions on his behalf.”
Dr Freeman has been approached for comment.
In 2019, the hearing was adjourned for several months because Dr Freeman – who has said he has suffered from major depressive illness – was too unwell to attend.
Freeman has been accused by the GMC of ordering 30 sachets of Testogel to the National Cycling Centre in 2011 “knowing or believing” the banned drug was intended to boost an athlete’s performance, and then lying to conceal his motives for doing so.
He has admitted 18 of 22 charges against him, including initially lying to try to cover up the order, and misleading a UK Anti-Doping (Ukad) investigation.
But Dr Freeman denies the remaining four charges, including the central accusation he helped to dope a rider, saying he was bullied into ordering the drug by former British Cycling and Team Sky performance director Shane Sutton to treat his erectile dysfunction.
Sutton has denied those claims, claiming Freeman is lying.
The case threatens to cast a shadow over the country’s most successful Olympic sport following a series of controversies.