Musselburgh racecourse boss pays back funds in cash wrangle

Musselburgh Race Course Manager Bill Farnsworth.
Musselburgh Race Course Manager Bill Farnsworth.
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EXTRAORDINARY details have emerged of a bitter pay row at the top of Musselburgh Racecourse as the 200-year-old venue fights for its future.

The Evening News has learnt a disciplinary hearing handed boss Bill Farnsworth a final written warning after finding he overpaid himself £38,000 over four years.

But Mr Farnsworth, who voluntarily repaid all but £9,000, labelled the hearing “unfair and flawed” – and said he was “underpaid” by the board.

“If a council employee was found to be in a situation of mismanaged funds or not having official permission to give themselves a pay rise they would be instantly dismissed by East Lothian Council or any other bluechip company,” said one former racecourse board member, John McNeil.

The racecourse has been run by the Musselburgh Joint Racing Committee for the past 15 years, made up of four councillors and three members of the Lothians Racing Syndicate.

But the popular venue was subject to a power struggle last year between LRS and the council amid allegations of poor governance.

The disciplinary hearing last May found Mr Farnsworth had overpaid himself the £38,500 since 2013, partly related to his seat on the British Horseracing Authority board.

He contested the decision of the MJRC disciplinary process last May only for a top barrister to reject his appeal and uphold the board’s findings.

A report by the QC in December found that Mr Farnsworth had been following LRS instructions, but not the MJRC board, and labelled the written warning “too 
harsh”.

But it concluded that Mr Farnsworth, who was paid £107,000 last year, had failed to follow the MJRC’s instruction or permission and that his actions amounted to misconduct.

Mr Farnsworth is now pursuing the MJRC for £20,000 in legal fees incurred during the disciplinary process.

He also received £42,000 in back pay on the recommendation of an independent review after his pay was frozen during the dispute.

“This unsound process, in which councillors can sit as judge and jury reviewing the decisions taken by their fellow councillors, makes a mockery of natural justice,” said Mr Farnsworth.

The row preceded former MJRC chair John Caldwell losing his council seat at last year’s elections.

Then in February, East Lothian Council announced plans to abolish the MRJC and replace it with a new Musselburgh Racecourse Associated Committee.

A temporary licence by the BHA expired on Saturday with no breakthrough during crisis talks on Friday with discussions ongoing.

“Upon conclusion of these discussions a decision will be made regarding the status of Musselburgh’s licence,” said BHA spokesman Robin Mounsey.

“The discussions are being conducted on an expedited basis, with the intention of reaching a decision in advance of Musselburgh’s next fixture on May 3.”

andy.shipley@edinburghnews.com