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From Embassy Hero to Racing Disgrace

by Pratap ChatterjeeSpecial to CorpWatch
June 9th, 2004

Major General Jeremy Phipps most embarrassing moment came in October 2002 when an undercover television camera caught him calling the members of the British Jockey Club, his employers at the time, "fucking ignorant." Given that members include the Queen, Prince Philip, the royal family of Dubai, and the American ambassador, it caused a firestorm.

Phipps was in charge of security for the Club at a time when it was under investigation for corruption, including the race-fixing activities of a suspected cocaine smuggler and links to organized crime in Hong Kong.

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In order to restore the reputation of the venerable British institution, in March 2002, Phipps launched dawn raids on five National Hunt trainers -- including nine-time champion Martin Pipe -- to investigate whether the trainers were illegally plying the horses with the blood-boosting drug erythropoieitin.

The raids were launched almost exactly 20 years after "Operation Nimrod," the proudest moment in Phipps' career, when he led a spectacular rescue mission for the Special Air Service (SAS), an elite British regiment, at the Iranian Embassy near Hyde Park in London. In that mission, he liberated 21 people who were being held hostage by the Democratic Revolutionary Front for the Liberation of Arabistan.

The similarly spectacular Jockey Club raids, which symbolized the new get tough attitude of the management, turned up no evidence of horse doping, much to the relief of the aristocratic members of the club.

Seven months later, the hidden camera for the popular television show Panorama caught Phipps speaking more frankly. In the show, he complained that the Club members had "no backbone." It was all very embarrassing for the major general, who had, until that point, been a darling of the British elite.

For four years, spanning the first Gulf War, Phipps was the director of the British Special Forces. His final position was as a special advisor to Sultan Qaboos Bin Said of Oman, where he helped with security for the rich, strategically vital country at the mouth of the Gulf, as part of a program with 65 British army officers on ''loan service'' to the sultan. An article in the London Sunday Times in 1995, described what they did: "eat curries, wear cummerbunds at formal dinners, and go 'wadi-bashing' for fun."

In 1999, two years after he retired from the military, Phipps returned to high society in England, where he accompanied the Queen to the Royal Ascot races, one of the most prestigious social events in Britain.

In May 2000, Phipps joined the Control Risks Group, a private security company, who sent him to work at the Jockey Club. He was asked to look into rumors that his predecessor, Roger Buffham, formerly of the Special Military Intelligence Unit in Northern Ireland was leaking information about the problems at the Jockey Club to Panorama. To learn more, he arranged to meet Buffham for dinner.

The two men discussed a former jockey, Graham Bradley, who had supplied evidence about the drugging of horses, despite the public relations raids staged by Phipps. Although Phipps was hoping to get Buffham to confess to giving the evidence to the media, he was unaware that the entire conversation had been recorded by a hidden camera.

Panorama's tapes captured this conversation:

"Brad's gone and shot his mouth off," complained Phipps. "Those transcripts are dynamite."

Buffham: "They corrupted a whole generation of National Hunt jockeys."

Phipps: "Dreadful stuff, and exactly what you said I'm afraid."

Buffham: "But no one [meaning at the Jockey Club] wants to do anything about it."

Phipps: "They fucking well are now."

After the program aired, Phipps quit the Club with the following statement: "I wish to take an honorable approach over this whole affair to save any further embarrassment to you and the Jockey Club and very sadly must therefore offer you my resignation."

But he did not have very far to look for new work. Throughout the late 1990s, he was paid a retainer by Lieutenant Colonel Tim Spicer at Sandline, a private military company, although he has never spoken publicly about what he was doing for the company.

In Spicer's autobiography, he describes Phipps as his former boss in the British army on two occasions. The first was on a one-year rotation in Germany, where Phipps said to Spicer: "You come highly recommended, but there is one thing you must remember: This brigade is my train set. You can play with it, but it remains mine." Subsequently, Spicer worked for Phipps when he was running the Special Forces, just after the 1991 Gulf War, where he helped "distill lessons learnt from the Gulf."

Today, the tables are turned and Phipps is in charge of Spicer's train set in Iraq, recruiting ex-British military officers to work for Aegis Defence Services, under its new $293 million contract to guard reconstruction personnel in Iraq.