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Racing boss felt ‘conned, deceived’ by explosive report

Racing boss Peter V’landys felt the ABC set him up as the “face” of abhorrent cruelty to horses – revealed in sickening footage from a Queensland abattoir – that he had no power to prevent, a court has heard.The Racing NSW chief executive was stunned he was not offered the same courtesy to see the…

Racing boss Peter V’landys felt the ABC set him up as the “face” of abhorrent cruelty to horses – revealed in sickening footage from a Queensland abattoir – that he had no power to prevent, a court has heard.

The Racing NSW chief executive was stunned he was not offered the same courtesy to see the footage as two “activists” also featured in 7.30’s explosive report The Final Race before being interviewed for the program.

He choked up as he recalled the flood of “vile” emails he read through after the segment aired last October, recalling how some “lowlifes” stated they hoped he would end up in an abattoir.

But he said the email that hurt most wished cancer and a slow death on his two young kids who are under 10 years old.

“The one that disturbed me the most was the one in relation to my children,” he told the Federal Court on Thursday.

The 58-year-old is suing the national broadcaster and journalist Caro Meldrum-Hanna for aggravated damages over the program, which exposed the horrific mistreatment of retired thoroughbreds at the Meramist abattoir in Caboolture.

He claims to have suffered significant reputational and personal hurt after being deliberately “ambushed” and painted as someone who “callously permits the wholesale slaughter” of horses when he fronted cameras for the program, completely unaware the ABC had obtained the appalling footage.

The ABC denies the defamatory imputations as claimed, with its barrister Sandy Dawson SC labelling the accusation it acted with malice to tarnish the racing industry as “misconceived rubbish”.

During cross examination, Mr Dawson asked Mr V’landys if he believed the program was going to be a “fluff piece” on equine welfare, adding the ABC had informed him they were analysing the industry’s data and practices.

Earlier, Mr V’landys said he felt the broadcaster “deceived and conned” him by withholding the footage before his sit-down with Ms Meldrum-Hanna two days before the show went to air.

That robbed him of the opportunity to voice his utter disgust and made his answers, which would have been different, look “flippant” as viewers assumed he was aware of the cruelty, he said.

In his interview, he claimed to have no knowledge of gallopers from NSW being slaughtered in abattoirs or knackeries, but the ABC had found 14 purported examples.

“I felt I was denied the courtesy and procedural fairness that the other participants on the show had,” he said.

“I didn’t want to be the person associated with the Meramist footage because it has nothing to do with me.”

On Thursday, former Queensland premier Peter Beattie described Mr V’landys, who he hand-picked to replace him as chairman of the Australian Rugby League Commission, as a man of “integrity and honesty”.

Mr Beattie said The Final Race came at a “bad time” for his successor, who was yet to win over the full commission.

“To be frank, I had gone out on a limb to support him and I was concerned that if this was true (the allegations in the report), it would damage his reputation among the other commissioners,” he said.

“It’s the most upset I’ve seen him – he was very upset. He felt his reputation had been damaged and he wanted everyone to know the truth.”

After the program aired, viewers began sending a “firestorm” of abuse to Racing NSW and its boss.

“I knew straight way that I was being set up as the person being responsible for this cruelty to horses … that couldn’t be farther from the truth,” he said.

“I think they were trying to portray that I was aware of Meramist, that I allowed Meramist to happen.”

He said Racing NSW had no control over retired thoroughbreds once they had been rehomed or sold interstate.

Mr V’landys also said Racing NSW would have been able to provide crucial information about the 14 horses from NSW identified as being slaughtered at Meramist if the ABC had asked before the program went to air.

One of them was still alive, while the majority of the horses had predominantly raced and domiciled in other states and were no longer under the body’s jurisdiction.

Two of them had been sent to an abattoir by a trainer who had lied to Racing NSW about the animals’ status and his licence was revoked.

He said Racing NSW was the only body in Australia that had outlawed horses being sent to abattoirs or knackeries if they had been predominantly domiciled in the state.

“What was portrayed on that show, the majority had not breached the rules,” he said.

Mr Dawson put to Mr V’landys it was an “exaggeration” Racing NSW could account for every horse and noted the racing boss’ evidence in court today that investigations were “still ongoing” into two of the horses purported on the program to have been killed at Meramist.

“Your point is once the horse has been rehomed and then sold to another person … the horse is well outside the jurisdiction of Racing NSW … and there’s nothing you can do to stop it going to a knackery,” Mr Dawson said.

The hearing continues.

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