Richard Freeman admitted to destroying a work laptop with a ‘screwdriver or blunt instrument’, but insisted he had ‘nothing to hide’ in doing so, as his medical tribunal resumed on Tuesday.
The former Team Sky and British Cycling doctor also admitted he ignored due practice to give former coach Shane Sutton medication on demand, and revealed former Sky boss James Murdoch had interrogated him ahead of a parliamentary inquiry he went on to withdraw from.
Freeman was present in Manchester to give evidence for the first time since the process began more than 18 months ago. There have been several delays – mostly relating to Freeman’s mental health – including a lengthy adjournment since the last sitting in December 2019, when former coach Shane Sutton and head of medicine Steve Peters gave evidence.
Up against the General Medical Council (GMC) in a hearing that could see him struck off the medical register, Freeman sought to defend himself against the four allegations he’s contesting, having accepted the other 18. He has admitted ordering testosterone gels to the National Cycling Centre in 2011, along with trying to cover it up and then lying to UK Anti-Doping investigators. However, he still refutes the central charge, that he placed the order “knowing or believing” the banned substance was intended to be administered to an athlete.
Freeman insisted the Testogel was ordered to treat Sutton for erectile dysfunction, despite Sutton’s denials in December. Pressed on the circumstances, he admitted he ignored proper diagnostic procedures and gave Sutton medication on demand, claiming he felt bullied by the Australian.
“You abandoned your medical training because you were unable to say no to him,” said the GMC lawyer, according to the BBC, to which Freeman replied: “Yes. I fully accept it was poor medical practice. I regret that.”
While the GMC spent the afternoon pressing Freeman on his explanation for the Testogel delivery, the morning saw a major development in the form of a laptop supposedly containing riders’ medical data that was destroyed by Freeman.
The laptop was a temporary replacement for the one Freeman reported stolen in 2014 that contained information relating to the mystery jiffy bag delivered to team and allegedly administered to Bradley Wiggins in 2011. UKAD was forced to close its 2017 investigation into the matter due to a lack of evidence.
On Tuesday, according to the BBC, the tribunal heard that Freeman damaged the replacement laptop beyond repair, at some point between UKAD examining it in 2017 and the GMC requesting access to it towards the end of 2018.
“You’d taken a screwdriver or some other blunt instrument to it, hadn’t you?” said the GMC lawyer, to which Freeman replied: “Yes.”
Freeman went on to explain that he had since obtained a new permanent laptop and so had no need for the temporary replacement.
“Rather than take it to a local recycling centre… I had seen a programme about how people in India can access data on laptops. I decided I cannot let that happen so I decided to destroy it,” he said. “This was in the midst of a period when I wasn’t feeling well. I told my lawyers, [who] said I shouldn’t do that for data protection reasons.”
Freeman handed the laptop over to the GMC but it was impossible to retrieve any data, and nothing was backed up. According to the Telegraph, he said he “falsely presumed” the contents had been backed up by either British Cycling or UKAD, and admitted he did nothing to verify that.
“Surely on an issue as important as this, before you apply brute force to this laptop, you’d have a copy,” said the GMC’s lawyer. “That’s common sense, isn’t it – unless you didn’t want anyone to access the contents?”
Freeman replied: “I had nothing to hide.”
The first day of the resumed tribunal also saw it come to light that top Sky bosses and lawyers had called a meeting with Freeman ahead of his planned appearance at the 2017 Parliamentary DCMS Select Committee inquiry into doping in sport. Freeman then withdrew and never gave evidence, citing health reasons.
The tribunal reportedly heard that among those present was James Murdoch, the former chairman of Sky plc, which was the title sponsor of Dave Brailsford’s team – now Ineos Grenadiers – from 2010 to 2019. Also present were a lawyer for Rupert Murdoch, the media mogul and James Murdoch’s father, along with the sport lawyer Mike Morgan.
“It was very tense. Pressurised. They wanted to know how I would answer certain questions,” Freeman said, according to the Guardian.
“I broke down in tears and couldn’t go on. [My solicitor] stopped the session. I never went back. I wrote to Damien Collins to say I would answer questions in writing.”
The inquiry was taking place around the time of UKAD’s investigation, and Freeman expanded on the mental struggles he was facing.
“I was on my own, living alone, isolated,” he said. “I started drinking again, taking more sedative medication. I was on a slippery slope. I was due to give evidence to the DCMS select committee but I found it very daunting.”
The DCMS Select Committee’s eventual report painted a damning portrayal of Team Sky and British Cycling, centering on the alarming lack of medical record keeping and the ‘unethical’ use of banned substances under Therapeutic Use Exemptions.
Freeman’s tribunal continues on Wednesday and is scheduled to run through to November 26.