A former British Cycling and Team Sky chief doctor used “a screwdriver or blunt instrument” to destroy a laptop which may have contained medical data crucial to a doping investigation, a tribunal has heard.
Giving evidence for the first time, Dr Richard Freeman admitted doing so “in the midst of a period when I wasn’t feeling well”.
He claims the device – given to him by British Cycling – was broken, but he chose not to recycle it for fear that information could be hacked.
Dr Freeman said his attempts to back up data on a hard drive before handing it over to forensic experts as part of a General Medical Council (GMC) inquiry had failed.
“I had nothing to hide,” he insisted.
Dr Freeman has been accused of ordering testosterone to the sport’s headquarters at the national velodrome in 2011, “knowing or believing” it was intended to boost an athlete’s performance.
He has admitted 18 of 22 charges against him, which include ordering 30 sachets of Testogel to the National Cycling Centre in 2011, lying to try to cover up the order and lying to a UK Anti-Doping (Ukad) investigation.
Dr Freeman says he was bullied into ordering the testosterone by former British Cycling and Team Sky performance director Shane Sutton.
Sutton has denied those claims, claiming Freeman is lying.
In 2017 it was revealed that a laptop belonging to Freeman, and containing a record of some medical treatments, had been stolen from him three years earlier, hindering a Ukad investigation into a mystery jiffy bag delivery in France in 2011.
The panel at the Medical Practitioners Tribunal Service in Manchester heard that a second work laptop given to Dr Freeman as a replacement was also examined by Ukad.
It was subsequently returned to Dr Freeman, but last year the GMC requested the laptop be looked at by forensic experts as part of its investigation into the 2011 testosterone delivery.
Dr Freeman says by then he had tried to destroy the device, assuming any relevant information had already been retrieved.
“The keypad drove me to distraction,” he explained.
Cross-examining the medic, Simon Jackson QC for the prosecution said: “This was a laptop that had accessible medical records relating to riders you had treated during your time. I’m asking why you returned it with such damage.”
Dr Freeman replied: “The laptop in question was given to me as a temporary fix after the loss of my laptop.
“It was returned to me as being of no further interest to Ukad or British Cycling.
“By then I had a new laptop. So 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. 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.
“Then when [the GMC’s forensic experts] asked for it, of course I handed it over. I wondered if they could retrieve data. I had a hard drive. I thought it had backed up my data.”
In further exchanges that will add to the intrigue surrounding the case, Jackson asked: “By the time you’d taken it [to the experts], you’d taken a screwdriver or some other blunt instrument to it, hadn’t you?”
“Yes,” replied Dr Freeman.
Jackson said: “You just produced a piece of plastic or something – it wasn’t a hard drive you produced. Surely on an issue as important as this, before you apply brute force to this laptop, you’d have a copy. That’s common sense, isn’t it – unless you didn’t want anyone to access the contents?”
“I had nothing to hide,” said Dr Freeman.
Earlier, the tribunal heard Dr Freeman had cancelled a much-anticipated appearance in front of the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) Select Committee in 2017 after being questioned by his then Team Sky bosses.
The panel was told Sky’s then chairman James Murdoch – and the lawyer of his billionaire father Rupert Murdoch – were at the meeting.
Dr Freeman said: “It was very tense. Pressurised.
“They wanted to know how I would answer certain questions. I broke down in tears and couldn’t go on. Mr Eastwood [his lawyer] stopped the session.
“I never went back. I wrote to [the DCMS Committee chairman] to say I would answer questions in writing.”
Dr Freeman told MPs he was too ill to attend the Select Committee hearing. He resigned from British Cycling in 2017 because of ill health.
At the tribunal on Tuesday, he was questioned about his explanation that he felt bullied into prescribing erectile dysfunction medication for Sutton without following proper procedures.
“I didn’t examine his testicles. I didn’t take his blood pressure. I didn’t take a medical assessment,” Dr Freeman said.
Jackson responded: “Sutton came in, said he wanted Viagra, and you gave it to him. You abandoned your medical training because you were unable to say no to him.
“Yes,” admitted Dr Freeman. “I fully accept it was poor medical practice. I regret that.”
The hearing continues.