July 01, 2016

More to the story: Whitehorse elaborates

Resignation of APBA & PBV membership

The City of Whitehorse Pipe Band would like to address the recent well publicised events in relation player suspensions & our decision to rescind membership from the APBA & PBV respectively.

The City of Whitehorse Pipe Band, like many other bands run 2 social media pages. One public, one private. The private page was subject to a privacy breach by a former member who took it upon themselves to screen shot a photograph and subsequent comments relating to it from our private, members only space, passing the information on to Mr Russell or APBA. I’m not quite sure which it was.

The content of the photograph was one showing several members of a winning pipe band posing with the trophy with a well-known judge at the rear of the photograph sporting the branded baseball cap of the winning pipe band. For the avoidance of doubt, the judge was not on duty that day. This photograph was posted on our private page. Comments were indeed made in relation to the photo.

City of Whitehorse Pipe Band & 5 individuals received a letter from the APBA on 20th May advising of following: “National Management Committee last night determined its intent to investigate the circulation of a photograph showing comments to a Facebook post displayed as City of Whitehorse Pipe Band on 12 and 13 March.”

For the record, and to make sure there is no doubt about the matter, to the best of the knowledge of the executive committee of the City of Whitehorse Pipe Band:

– the photograph of the Facebook Page was not circulated or otherwise published in any public forum by any current member of the Band; and

– if at any time the Band becomes aware of the identity of the person (or persons) who circulated the photograph, and any such person is a member of the Band, the strongest possible action (which, if warranted after proper investigation, would include expulsion) will be taken by the Band against that person.

Further, and particularly bearing in mind:

– the total denial of involvement by the Band and its current members in the circulation or other publication of the photograph of the Facebook page; and

– the complete lack of any evidence put forward to substantiate that any member of the Band was involved in the circulation or publication of the photograph of the Facebook Page

Additionally, in responding, I have been requested by the Band to make several other pertinent points:

– The Facebook Page was a page from the Facebook site of a ‘secret’ (private) group associated with the Band. It is not, and never has been, accessible by the public and prior to receipt of the Letter, to the knowledge of the Band, no page (or part thereof) has ever been made public by any member of the Band.

– There is no law, nor should there be any law (or rule of the PBA), that restricts a person’s right to make private comment. I suspect that a review by the PBA of the Facebook pages, text messages or emails of other members of the PBA would reveal many other examples of comments similar to those on the Facebook Page about other persons or events. Further, I would also suggest that none of those comments were similarly never intended for public dissemination.

– The only issue of concern in this instance ought to be unauthorised and completely inappropriate use of private comments for an ulterior purpose. As indicated above, while the persons who made the private comments purportedly attributed to them on the Facebook Page may well now wish to retract those comments, they are not the persons who have committed the ‘crime’ (or breached the PBA Member Protection Policy). That breach is the sole province of those who ‘published’ the private comments – by not only photographing the page but then circulating that photograph to an unknown number of third parties.

– If, as indicated by the description of the investigation, the focus is on who circulated the photograph of the Facebook Page (i.e. the person who actually ‘published’ the private comments), then I and the other members of the Band assume that the PBA will fully implement the National Management Committee’s other determination that there will be no social media or other commentary permissible by parties involved in the investigation.

The individuals were requested to provide a response on the matter within 14 days.

We responded by letter (email) on 30th May. Before we had provided our response to APBA we received a letter on 20th May from PBV advising that they were suspending the band from all contests in Victoria until completion of the investigation by PBV. Somewhat irrational and unnecessary given the next Victorian contest wasn’t until December not to mention the fact that APBA, the parent body hadn’t deemed it necessary to suspend pending completion of the investigation and as a furtherance, we hadn’t responded at that point. (The band suspension was lifted June 19th – the 5 individuals remained)

PBV also took it upon themselves to email all band secretaries within the Victorian branch on 27th May with an undated, unsigned letter advising them of the APBA investigation to mass media material “possibly” in breach of member protection policy appearing on the Facebook presence of City of Whitehorse Pipe Band. Not only had we not responded to the APBA at this time, any such “possible” breach had not been fully investigated. The following statement from within the letter almost beggars belief: “it is requested that all members, supporters and friends of your band be informed of the matter, and requested and urged to avoid making things more difficult for all concerned by spreading information, gossip or speculations about the matter or the investigation either personally or, particularly, on the internet.

I’d like to highlight the last paragraph of the letter we received from APBA where it cites “National Management Committee has further determined that there will be no social media or other commentary permissible by parties involved in the investigation. Any breach of this will result in an immediate 12 month suspension from membership of the association.”

For the record, this was followed ruthlessly from within our organisation. I have been aware of multiple instances of commentary on the investigation from various states within Australia and overseas. The Band requested that PBV observe, as it should already have done, the ban imposed by the APBA on all social media or other comment on the investigation.

Both the rules and policies of the APBA and natural justice demand that, before any further public comment on or about this matter which names the Band or any individual is made by the APBA, PBV or any person or organisation affiliated with the APBA or PBV, the Band is provided with a full brief of the allegations made against it and given an opportunity to respond fully (and directly) to those allegations.

Of particular note, I have a leaked copy of an “IN CONFIDENCE” memo in my possession sent to state councillor’s cc’d to branch secretaries advising of the investigation. The following statement was made in that document to all recipients: “Councillors and branches are again further reminded that no social media or other commentary is permissible during this process. Any breach will result in an immediate 12-month suspension from membership of the association.”

I was supplied the “In confidence” memo from a third party via the recipient on June 18th. One would naturally expect a full investigation to determine why one of the state councillors and or branch secretaries would take it upon themselves to leak this confidential memo risking suspension as implied. Of course it’s only fair that a full investigation as to the source of the leak would take place and subsequent implied penalty enforced. I have emailed the APBA secretary on June 18th & June 26th seeking clarification and assurance that an investigation will take place. To date I have not received a response. I have also requested a release of documents under freedom of information. To date, I have not received a response.

If indeed the APBA conducts an investigation and the answers reveal a breach of its stated policy of an immediate 12 month suspension, the National Management Committee has no choice but to act accordingly.

To do otherwise would leave the PBA open to the allegation that it is happy to quote (and apply) its rules and policies when it suits, but that it is not prepared to apply its rules to persons other than those who appear to be the target of the investigation or in circumstances where those persons deny totally any involvement in the circulation of the offending photograph.

I believe it was grossly unfair and unjust for an imposed gagging order to be issued on us whilst notable members from various states are openly talking about it. Witnesses external to the band confirm this. The association seem quite happy to talk about us but they make rulings preventing us to present our side of the story.

Additionally, one of our members who was an international guest of the band subsequently lost his position from his primary band following a phone call to his Pipe Major from a notable person who carries substantial influence. This happened prior to the completion of investigation and or response of course. One would assume another breach of the no commentary determination has occurred here.

Moving on to the penalties. The member who posted the photograph received a 12 month suspension. Another member “liked” the photograph without commenting. This member was suspended for 12 months also. The other 3 members made personal comment on the post. These members were given suspensions ranging from 12 to 24 months.

The last social media case I can recall wasn’t too long ago within the RSPBA where a high profile player passed comment referencing to a judge based on results from a contest on his own public Facebook page. He received a 6 month suspension.

I believe the suspensions were excessive, grossly unfair and done so without offering our right to an impartial, unbiased hearing.

Indeed even the appeal process was a farce. APBA disciplinary rules state the following: “A member who is suspended or who’s membership is terminated pursuant to this clause may by written notice to the Secretary within 7 days after he is notified thereof appeal to Extraordinary General Meeting to be called for the sole purpose of hearing the appeal and which by resolution of at least three-fifths of the members present entitled to vote allow the appeal”

We indeed wrote seeking appeal as per the rule above. This wasn’t accepted and we were presented an appeal form (the rule states “in writing”) to complete advising them of the basis for appeal. Once received the council members then vote on whether to allow the appeal hearing. So we have right of appeal but only if they decide they want to allow it. All voted on by individuals of whom have conflict of interest. For the avoidance of doubt, had a fair, impartial and unbiased process been offered, we would have taken it.

APBA Member Protection Policy section B – Codes, Guidelines and Support, paragraph 2 under natural justice and procedural fairness states “The opportunity to be heard by an impartial decision maker is at the heart of the rules of natural justice and procedural fairness.” I have requested on 2 occasions that the investigation be passed to an independent body as a fair, impartial, unbiased trial cannot be offered from within the Association. Multiple members on the council have conflict of interest. To date I received no response.

In the opinion of the Band, the reality of the present situation is that the PBV, like its parent body APBA, seemingly appears to apply the rules and policies to suit itself. Further, the Band views the APBA and PBV as having no concept of: fairness or due process – it is the prosecutor, judge and jury of all disputes and, in the process, ignores its own rules and makes arbitrary decisions about penalties without bothering to take the time to seek an explanation and offer a fair impartial, unbiased investigation as per natural justice principles.

In closing, while certain members of the Band may now wish they had not made the private comments attributed to them on the Facebook page, the facts are that they are not the offending party (parties). It is the person (or persons) who, without authorisation and completely inappropriately, photographed a private page and is now seeking to use those private comments for a completely ulterior motive that ought to be the subject of censure and punishment by APBA and PBV.

The City of Whitehorse Pipe Band and management committee are absolutely disgusted in the bully boy tactics and subsequent character assassination from within the organisation. We have no wish to be a part of an organisation who manipulate facts and apply rules and policies to suit itself hence our resignation by immediate effect.

I also take this opportunity to correct a few statements made in your article. Mr Earl’s statement claiming “Matters are currently within the period of further defined and prescribed processes and until they are concluded, further comment is inappropriate.” Matters have concluded following our immediate resignation from the association. We are no longer bound by their sanctions and or demands. The statement intimating an “altered image” of Russell is also incorrect. Nothing in regards the photograph was or has been altered. The source of this statement is either grossly mistaken or intent on misleading.

The City of Whitehorse management team would like to extend its thanks to our supporters for the many messages of support and to its 50+ membership for their continued support.

Yours sincerely,

George Shepherd
City of Whitehorse Pipe Band

[end of statement]

Nat Russell, April 2010.

With City of Whitehorse rescinding its memberships from the Victorian Pipe Band Association and Pipe Bands Australia, whether the band now has any recourse to appeal the matter comes into question. Pipe Bands Australia has reportedly advised various world associations, including the Royal Scottish Pipe Band Association, about the matter.

It is not known if the band will apply to other associations for membership, and whether other associations would honour the individual suspensions made by Pipe Bands Australia if they did. In major pipe band jurisdictions, a band must be a member of a recognized association in order to compete.

Regardless, City of Whitehorse has said that it will not compete at the 2016 Australian Pipe Band Championships in Sydney in October. It is not known if the band still plans to compete at the 2017 World Pipe Band Championships.

RSPBA Chief Executive Ian Embelton was asked for his organization’s comment on the matter, but to date no response has been received.

Stay tuned to pipes|drums for more on this story as it unfolds.



  1. It is a shame when something like this detracts from the overall goal of promoting and improving piping/bands world wide. Such a waste of time and energy over some backyard “gossip” that slipped out accidentally.
    On another note, for those of you who wonder why some people post under a nom de plume…..well, now you know.



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