Australian association lawsuit gathers mainstream media interest
A lawsuit between a prominent drumming teacher and judge against the Victorian Highland Pipe Band Association has made it into mainstream media after the Herald Sun, a major daily newspaper based in Melbourne, Australia, with a circulation of more than 350,000 reported on ongoing litigation against the Victorian Highland Pipe Band Association in its May 12 online and print editions.
With the headline “Call to pay the piper; letters spark defamation claim, ” the story has also reportedly gained the interest of the prominent investigative reporting television program, Current Affair, which runs on the Nine Channel in Australia.
The case involves a senior drumming tutor and judge, who claims he was defamed and libelled after the Victorian Highland Pipe Band Association published the letters.
He contends that documents, reportedly written on the letterhead of Pipe Bands Australia, falsely implied that he was being investigated for misconduct at the organization’s Youth Pipe Band summer camp in 2019. He alleges that the actual subject of the criminal probe was with a leader within Pipe Bands Australia, the collective association for six state pipe band associations within the country.
The older Victorian Highland Pipe Band Association is not a member of Pipe Bands Australia, but Pipe Bands Victoria is. The Victorian Highland Pipe Band Association reportedly has deep pockets, reportedly with more than AUD$1-million in cash reserves and a building that it owns outright. The patron of the Victorian Highland Pipe Band Association is former Victorian Premier Ted Baillieu.
The gist of the complicated story:
- In mid-2019, there was a workshop for the Victorian Youth Pipe Band, which was at the time an organization endorsed and run by the Victorian Highland Pipe Band Association.
- There was an allegation that a minor was touched inappropriately when one of the instructors was adjusting their kilt. A parent made a complaint to two instructors. The instructors then reported the complaint to the Wodonga Police in Victoria. The police subsequently questioned the person named in the complaint.
- The Victorian Highland Pipe Band Association sent a letter on Pipe Bands Australia letterhead to the two tutors who made the complaint to the police. The letter contended that the proper course of action was to report the complaint to Pipe Bands Australia.
- Rather than the person about whom the complaint concerned, the two tutors were “suspended” from Pipe Bands Australia, even though it was the Victorian Highland Pipe Band Association. Pipe Bands Australia subsequently made the two individuals “probationary members,” a class of membership that apparently does not exist within the rules of the organization.
- The Victorian Youth Band was scheduled to travel to Northern Ireland to perform at the 2019 Belfast Tattoo. Pipe Bands Australia contacted the parents of the members Victorian Youth Band by letter, allegedly stating that the two suspended tutors were under investigation by the police. The Victorian Youth Band then cancelled its Belfast trip.
- The band’s two tutors reformed the band under the name “National Youth Pipe Band of Australia,” a group not endorsed by either the Victorian Youth Band or Pipe Bands Australia. The newly named band then travelled to Belfast to represent Australia.
- The instructor is reportedly seeking damages and legal costs.
A request to Pipe Bands Australia President Chris Earl for comment has so far gone unanswered.
According to available court documents, the plaintiff said that publishing the letters to members of the community was politically motivated, as the senior figure was an “ally” of the association. He contends that the publishing of the letters “seriously injured . . . his credit and reputation, [and] has been humiliated and embarrassed.”
The Australian piping and drumming scene has gone through several public controversies over the last five years. In 2016, Pipe Bands Australia suspended several members of the Grade 1 City of Whitehorse for comments made on social media and actions alleged to have occurred at a competition. The band subsequently folded outright.
Pipe Bands Australia was also the subject of a financial fraud scandal in which its former Treasurer was charged with stealing more than AUD$200,000. The former official was eventually found guilty and received a suspended sentence of four years in prison.
Because the Victorian Highland Pipe Band Association is not part of Pipe Bands Australia, it was not affected by the 2017 fraud scandal. Pipe Bands Australia member associations reportedly contributed from their reserve funds to tide over Pipe Bands Australia.
A source who spoke on condition of anonymity alleged that there are possibly “three other actions to follow,” including one against Pipe Bands Australia.
The Royal Scottish Pipe Band Association also attracted critical mainstream attention in early 2020 for the renovation of its headquarters.
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