The success of some of Britain's leading Paralympians was called into question in an explosive parliamentary hearing on Tuesday.
Michael Breen, a lawyer and the father of Paralympic athlete Olivia Breen, gave evidence to the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport select committee that attempted to cast a shadow over the achievements of sprinter Sophie Hahn and wheelchair racer Hannah Cockroft — though he stopped short of naming the latter under parliamentary privilege.
Breen raised concerns about the classification of athletes, and other members of the British Paralympic team, on a day when Baroness Tanni Grey-Thompson admitted the system for determining the level of disability of an athlete was not fit for purpose and was instead open to abuse that she compared to 'doping in Olympic sports'.
The dad of Olivia Breen (above) has questioned the success of some of GB's top Paralympians
The 11-time Paralympic gold medallist, who in April delivered her duty-of-care report on British sport to the Government, also said that athletes were threatened by figures within their sports if they dared question the classification system. 'It's somewhere between control and bullying,' she said.
Breen told MPs that the head coach for British Paralympic athletics, the former sprinter Paula Dunn, had once told him that Hahn did not have cerebral palsy despite claims — not least from Hahn herself — to the contrary.
'Within the conversation she (Dunn) told us the athlete in question, Miss Hahn, didn't have cerebral palsy but she had learning difficulties,' said Breen. 'But she had ended up with a cerebral palsy classification.'
The classification for Hahn's T38 category does extend beyond athletes with cerebral palsy but Hahn has spoken publicly of her illness and on Tuesday night a spokesperson for the 20-year-old T38 Paralympic 100 metre champion sprint star told Sportsmail: 'Sophie does have cerebral palsy and was diagnosed as a young baby.'
Mr Breen said he had been told by a coach that Sophie Hahn (above) didn't have cerebral palsy
An earlier statement issued on Hahn's behalf concluded that 'it is distressing for any athlete who is the correct class in Para sport to face such repeated and unfounded allegations'. Dunn has remained silent on the subject and UK Athletics, who employ her, declined to comment.
Breen did, however, say that Dunn offered to resign after he took her comments further. The offer was not accepted and Dunn remains in a job, having privately apologised to the Hahn family.
Breen, whose daughter Olivia has been a direct rival to Hahn, had said he would be naming names in his evidence, claiming athletes were being 'humiliated' in races by less impaired athletes because of flaws in the system.
Lawyer Michael Breen told MPs on Tuesday that the classification system is open to abuse
'Within the conversation she (Paula Dunn) told us that the athlete in question, Miss Hahn, didn't have cerebral palsy but she had learning difficulties,' Mr Breen said at a parliamentary hearing
But committee chairman Damian Collins MP said they needed to review his written evidence before publication and asked him not to name further athletes after referencing Hahn. As Collins quite rightly stated, Hahn was not there to defend herself.
He did not name Cockroft but it was clear from his evidence that he was referring to the wheelchair athlete, accusing the British Paralympic Association of a conflict of interest when the five-times champion was reclassified from T53 to T34 while being coached by then head coach, Peter Eriksson. Cockroft's representatives — the same management team as Hahn — refuted Breen's evidence, stating that Eriksson did not coach the 25-year-old until after her reclassification.
On Tuesday night Cockroft's representatives disputed whether their client had officially been classified in the T53 category.
But a spokesperson for Hahn, 20, later told Sportsmail: 'Sophie does have cerebral palsy'
Tanni Grey-Thompson does not rate the system for determining an athlete's level of disability
Grey-Thompson also called for an independent body to regulate the classification system. She added that people were afraid to speak out, saying: 'The repercussions that were reported to me were things like de-selection from the squad or the team and lack of access to funding.'
Eriksson was due to give evidence via video link but a technical error meant he was unable to do so. He did, however, dispute Breen's evidence on Twitter.
Breen also claimed that over the course of two meetings in London, International Paralympic Committee lawyer Mike Townley had leaked a British athlete's confidential medical data to him. On Tuesday night the IPC launched an internal investigation regarding the meetings.
BPA chief executive Tim Hollingsworth conceded to MPs that it was 'time to look at' setting up a global, independent body to deal with classification.
Breen, seen in action in London, competes mainly in T38 sprint and F38 long jump events