Published: June 26, 2020

Pipe Bands Australia served with defamation lawsuit

Pipe Bands Australia, the country’s collective governing body of state pipe band associations, has been served with a defamation lawsuit in the Magistrate’s Court of Victoria, following a separate suit lodged in April against the Victoria Highland Pipe Band Association.

A prominent drumming teacher and judge filed the legal action. He claims that he was defamed and libelled after the Victorian Highland Pipe Band Association published documents, reportedly written on the letterhead of Pipe Bands Australia, that implied that he was being investigated for misconduct at the organization’s Youth Pipe Band summer camp in 2019.

The allegation is that the actual subject of the criminal probe was with a leader within Pipe Bands Australia.

The plaintiff is now reportedly seeking damages and legal costs against both Pipe Bands Australia and the Victorian Highland Pipe Band Association. If found in the plaintiff’s favour, damages and costs could be well into the six figures.

A summary of the alleged circumstances leading up to the legal actions:

  • 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 allegation 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 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.

A request to Pipe Bands Australia President Chris Earl for comment on the legal action against Pipe Bands Australia has so far gone unanswered.

Pipe Bands Australia has formed a special subcommittee “to manage the day-to-day response to these claims and to engage with the Association’s insurers and instructing solicitors if necessary,” according to a memo sent to branch secretaries on Pipe Bands Australia letterhead for distribution to band secretaries.

The subcommittee comprises Pipe Bands Australia representatives Ainsley Hart (Chair), James Cowie, Jamie Robinson, Tony Bidgood, Steven Patterson, and Jamie Forsyth.

The memo states: “Noting that the Victorian Highland Pipe Band Association Inc. is also named as a defendant in this claim, Council resolved that no person who may be perceived as having a conflict of interest in the proceedings (including any officer of the Victorian Highland Pipe Band Association) or may be called in the proceedings as a witness be part of the sub-committee. The sub-committee is subject to the strategic guidance of the National Council and will report regularly. The subcommittee has appointed Ainsley Hart (Chair – Pipe Bands New South Wales) as its chairperson and is currently working with the Association’s insurers.”


“The Pipe Bands Australia sub-committee would like to assure all PBA members of their full attention to this matter.” – Ainsley Hart, chair, PBA special subcommittee


Pipe Bands Australia’s management is made up of elected officials from the six state pipe band associations in Australia.

The Victorian Highland Pipe Band Association is not a member association of Pipe Bands Australia. A separate entity, Pipe Bands Victoria, represents the state for Pipe Bands Australia.

Pipe Bands Victoria reportedly voted against forming the subcommittee, while the other five state associations voted for it. Earl is currently Vice-President of Pipe Bands Victoria.

A hearing by the Magistrate’s Court of Victoria had been scheduled for June 26th, but has reportedly been postponed after the formation of the subcommittee.

When asked to comment on the legal action against Pipe Bands Australia, Ainsley Hart, chair of the special sub-committee, said, “The Pipe Bands Australia sub-committee would like to assure all PBA members of their full attention to this matter. However, as it is an ongoing legal situation where the sub-Committee on behalf of Council are being provided with external legal advice, we will be making no comments on this matter at this time.”

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.”

Earlier in June, three executive team members of Pipe Bands Australia resigned. Steve Patterson, National Secretary; Jamie Forsyth, Nation Principal Rules & Administration; and James Cowie, National Committee Member each tendered their resignations as national officers with Pipe Bands Australia, “to focus on challenges connected with their business and personal lives,” according to a statement.

A grassroots campaign has also started encouraging band members to petition Pipe Bands Australia to “provide details of the claim made against the association, along with how you are protecting our association and the financial and reputational interests of the membership with regard to the claim made in the Magistrates Court of Victoria.” Members are requested to sign and send the letter to Pipe Bands Australia officials.

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.

The legal action against the Victorian Highland Pipe Band Association has attracted the attention of Australia’s mainstream media.

 


Related

Australian association lawsuit gathers mainstream media interest
May 19, 2020


Earl re-elected to third Pipe Bands Australia term
September 13, 2019


Former Pipe Bands Australia treasurer sentenced
Posted on March 6, 2019


City of Whitehorse breaks down
Posted on November 28, 20

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