Freeman tribunal had been set to hear Cooke evidence before Sutton storm-out

Nicole Cooke

Great Britain’s Nicole Cooke won road race gold at the 2008 Olympic Games

Evidence from former Olympic cycling champion Nicole Cooke was set to be put to Shane Sutton before the former performance director stormed out of Dr Richard Freeman’s tribunal.

Freeman’s defence lawyer Mary O’Rourke QC made the claim as the tribunal to determine the medic’s fitness to practise heard whether Sutton’s evidence should be admissible.

Welsh rider Cooke, who retired in 2013, worked with Sutton as part of the British Cycling set-up when she won gold in the road race at the 2008 Beijing Games.

O’Rourke says Sutton’s evidence should be “totally discarded” after he left the hearing prematurely almost two weeks ago.

She also said that if Sutton’s evidence is thrown out, the four charges against former Team Sky and British Cycling medic Freeman “fall apart”.

But General Medical Council lawyer Simon Jackson QC said Sutton had left the hearing as a “direct consequence” of O’Rourke’s “bullying” during a stormy session.

O’Rourke said the Australian was a “serial liar” and “a doper with a doping history”.

Freeman has admitted 18 of 22 charges against him, made by the GMC, but denies a key claim of ordering testosterone to British Cycling headquarters in 2011 knowing or believing it was intended for an athlete.

He claims he was bullied by Sutton to order 30 sachets of Testogel for the coach’s erectile dysfunction, an allegation which Sutton denies.

Sutton, who has been a central figure to the tribunal, had been due to appear for two days but only appeared for one.

But Jackson said his departure was because he had been “put in the public stocks” by O’Rourke, who made the “liar” and “doper” claims ahead of Sutton giving evidence, knowing they would be picked up by the attending media.

He said they were designed to “put him under pressure” and said his client left the tribunal in Manchester as a “direct consequence of her cross-examination”.

Jackson also said some of the evidence put to Sutton was unfair because it came from anonymous sources, but O’Rourke countered that she had the names and it was Jackson’s decision to ensure names were kept private during the hearing.

She said Sutton’s dramatic exit denied her the chance to put more evidence to him from “three individuals” and from Cooke and her father, who O’Rourke said were happy to be named.

In the tribunal, O’Rourke described the rider, who has previously been critical of Sutton, as a “former 2002 Commonwealth Games and Olympic champion, and Shane Sutton was her coach”.

Jackson said Sutton’s evidence “should be admitted” given the 62-year-old had made himself available for two days but legal argument took away some of the time when he was already in Manchester.

He dismissed O’Rourke’s claims that Sutton was a “sole and decisive” witness because he was “a denier only” rather than an “accusatory witness”.

And he also said his client had answered questions related to the case.

A furious O’Rourke then said it was “amazing” that Jackson’s submissions included “not a word about Sutton’s appalling behaviour in the witness box”.

She added: “He was threatening me, and threatening Richard Freeman.”

The tribunal is set to discuss the applications by both sides on Tuesday, with O’Rourke set to make an application to have the four charges thrown out based on the outcome.

Freeman, who left British Cycling in 2017, has admitted 18 charges which include ordering the Testogel to the National Cycling Centre, attempting to cover up the order and lying to a UK Anti-Doping investigation.

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