Pigeon fancier admits foul play

'Winning' bird never flew at all

Pigeon fancier admits foul play

The world of pigeon racing has been rocked by reports that the apparent winner of last week's Grand National never actually left its loft.

The annual event rewards the bird with the fastest average speed on the 580-mile journey home from Tarbes in the south of France. This year, Eamon Kelly, 52, was crowned champion for the second year running.

But according to the Sun, his win was a fraud, thanks to an elaborate scam involving doubles that meant the 'winning' bird never moved from its loft in Didcot, Oxfordshire.

As a race controller, Kelly electronically registered 14 birds to fly, but left them at home. He then reportedly shipped a second, unregistered, set of birds to France in a lorry with thousands of others.

Back at home, he worked out what he thought would be a plausible winning time, picked his 'winning' pigeon and placed it on an electronic mat to register its return.

He was awarded £1,500 in prize money and a new £10,000 Ford Fiesta.

However, Kelly made a miscalculation, delivering a winning speed of 40 miles per hour; and when race officials realised that birds flying at 39mph were still a long way from home, they smelled a rat.

He has now apologised to the National Flying Club and resigned as a race controller.

"I, Eamon Kelly, sincerely apologise to all my friends and fanciers over my stupid actions relating to the recent Tarbes race," he says in a statement to the Sun.

"I was tempted and fell, a decision I will regret for the rest of my life. A sport that I love so much, that has given me untold pleasure and above all friendship I have thrown all away."

Kelly owns around 350 pigeons, including some from the Queen's Royal Loft at the Sandringham estate in Norfolk, and had been a member of the National Flying Club for 40 years.

Pigeon racing is a competitive world, and winning birds can be worth a fortune. In 2013, a bird named Bolt - after sprinter Usain Bolt - sold for £260,000.

And this competitiveness has resulted in cheating before, with the discovery in 2013 that several successful birds contained traces of cocaine and painkillers in their system.

Kelly now faces a disciplinary hearing next week to decide if he should be banned for life.

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