A GOLFER accused of sending “inflammatory” emails about his club captain following a story in the Evening News has lost a court battle to avoid being stripped of his membership.
John Foley, a former match secretary and committee member at the Glen Golf Club in North Berwick, sparked a row after his comments ended up on Facebook.
Club bosses took the decision to throw him out after his emails questioning the financial affairs of the East Lothian course came to light.
Now a judge at the Court of Session in Edinburgh has ruled that the club’s committee were entitled to take the view that Mr Foley was “trying to ferment division or stir up trouble amongst the membership in the club in a manner that was inappropriate in a social and sporting organisation”.
Judge Lord Pentland heard that club captain Alasdair Kerr had been the boss of a trust set up by Edinburgh Chamber of Commerce to help firms boost their exports – until it went into liquidation.
Mr Foley, 50, sent emails to friends drawing their attention to a report in the Evening News from October 6 last year which revealed that police were looking at the books of Scottish Chambers International, and that “inadequate controls” had led to a million pound-a-year loss. Following its publication, Mr Foley, of Brunstane Road, Joppa, wrote: “Have a look at these and tell me we shouldn’t be worried about the club accounts not being audited.
“This is very significant considering the fact that he (Mr Kerr) was the one who prevented our accounts being audited,” he wrote before adding “FREEDOM!” to the bottom of the message.
Lord Pentland heard that the emails “found their way onto Facebook” although how was never explained in court.
The court heard that Mr Kerr had previously asked Mr Foley to resign after a club disciplinary committee found he had handed over confidential documents to former club secretary Kevin Fish, who had taken an unfair dismissal claim to an employment tribunal.
Mr Foley agreed to be suspended instead, and it was during his suspension that he sent the controversial emails.
A second investigation led to the management committee deciding that Mr Foley’s conduct was “injurious to the character or interests of the club.”
“The management committee therefore invite you to resign from the club, failing which you will be expelled,” said their letter to Mr Foley. Mr Foley, who was part of the team who once won the Great Britain and Ireland rules of golf quiz held in St. Andrews, took up golf in his early 20s and plays up to five times a week.
Following the move to eject him, he asked the court for a judicial review to overturn the ultimatum that he must quit or be expelled.
Mr Foley claimed that he was entitled to express legitimate concerns by sending personal emails to two friends, and that the information about Mr Kerr and Scottish Chambers International was already in the public domain following the Evening News story.
His lawyers argued that “any reasonable observer would consider that there was a genuine risk of bias in the conduct of the investigation”.
The court also heard that Mr Foley had claimed the committee wanted to change the club’s constitution to prevent members seeing properly audited accounts, but his suspicions were wrong.
Lord Pentland refused to grant an interim interdict allowing Mr Foley to remain a member pending a full hearing of his grievances in November.
In a written judgment issued yesterday the judge said: “It would not be appropriate or desirable for him to be allowed to exercise membership rights during the relatively short period before the forthcoming first hearing.”