Anger over the ‘murky’ depiction of Newmarket as a town ruled by ‘gambling, booze, drugs and sex’
PUBLISHED: 19:00 19 April 2016
Emotions are running high in Newmarket.
An article – which has won an award – claims to lay bare a “murky undercurrent of vice” afflicting the town and its racing community. But it has upset some people after it was published in the Racing Post at the weekend.
The report by 24-year-old Chris Humpleby scooped the Martin Wills writing award in the under-26 category.
The article, entitled Newmarket: More Than Meets The Eye, says you could be forgiven for thinking “nothing exists beyond this microcosm of gambling, booze, drugs and sex”.
Just shy of the 1,000-word limit, the article has come in for strong criticism from many, including town mayor John Berry, a racehorse trainer, who labelled it an “unrealistic, slanted and unflattering” impression.
What he objected to, he said, was the implication nothing was being done about the problems.
“We all know that every town in Great Britain has got such problems,” he added.
Mr Berry has written a stinging blog criticising the article, which he described as “risible”.
Speaking to the East Anglian Daily Times yesterday, he praised the work of organisations such as Racing Welfare, which he said did a lot to tackle problems.
“There’s just so much being done,” he said.
“It’s also unfair on the town and pretty much everyone in it to portray it in the way it’s been portrayed in the article and in the Racing Post.”
The Racing Post’s editor Bruce Millington has defended Mr Humpleby and the decision to republish it.
He criticised Mr Berry for going in “studs up” on someone trying to highlight a problem.
“It needs addressing without Chris taking a kicking in the process,” he said. “It’s certainly sparked a very interesting debate and I hope that the end product is that it raises awareness of what’s clearly a problem and maybe there’s a constructive and happy ending in terms of any problems finally being flushed out and identified and people who need help getting help.”
The writer at the centre of the controversy, Chris Humpleby, graduated from Cambridge in 2013 before moving to Newmarket.
He completed a British Horseracing Authority graduate programme, including a stint at the Racing Post.
He currently works in the racing industry in Newmarket. He has emphasised the article is a general piece and has no link to any particular stables.
“It’s got people talking and it’s created a debate, which I think is a good thing,” he said yesterday.
“I take all the criticism on the chin.”
He said he was “incredibly proud” to have won the prestigious award and wrote the article because he cared about the town.
“I’ve not done this as a cheap PR stunt or whatever,” he said.
One of the lines that has been noted reads: “If the gambling is the thrill, and the drink is the fun, then the cocaine is the fuel, because there are not many toilet cisterns in Newmarket that have failed to resemble the sleek slopes of Mont Blanc on a Saturday evening. Charlie is not merely the name of the stable cat.”
Asked if he felt cocaine taking was a prevalent problem in the town, Mr Humpleby replied: “It was prevalent enough for me to use that phrase and I stand by that phrase.”
He said he accepted a lot of good work was being done in Newmarket, acknowledging his limited word count meant he was unable to explore all of those.
“I think the point John tried to make was how does Newmarket compare contextually to the rest of the country,” he said.
“That’s something I take on board fully.”
He added the industry could not afford to rest on its laurels, saying: “We can always do more to help.”
“I have a great time here and I love it but that doesn’t mean it’s perfect,” he said.