It was the email war that rocked the upper echelons of world polo.
And while the correspondence between two titans of the sport was sarcastic, provocative and, at times, abusive, a judge has found it wasn’t defamatory.
In his 127-page judgment, Victorian Supreme Court judge Terry Forrest examined the emails between Melbourne businessman Peter Yunghanns, a former member of the Federation of International Polo executive committee, and Nicholas Colquhoun-Denvers, a London-based executive and current president of the federation. The four-year email war began in 2012 with Mr Yunghanns taking aim at then federation president Richard Caleel, who preceded Mr Colquhoun-Denvers.
“The use of deprecatory language, very often overlaid with sarcasm or frank abuse, characterised his correspondence, ” Justice Forrest said of Mr Yunghanns.
Mr Yunghanns launched litigation, claiming Mr Colquhoun-Denvers defamed him by imputing he had made false allegations, acted to undermine polo sponsorships, was dishonest and irresponsible, and was guilty of sufficient misconduct to warrant him being declared persona non grata. In a counter-claim, Mr Colquhoun-Denvers claimed two emails from Mr Yunghanns carried the broad meanings that he engaged in financial and fiduciary mismanagement.
“In this unfortunate piece of litigation, both the plaintiff and defendant have failed to establish their respective claims,” Justice Forrest said, adding that the case showed the administrative processes of the Federation of International Polo “were redolent of a pre-war gentlemen’s club”.
Justice Forrest said Mr Yunghanns started a “vigorous campaign” against FIP in September 2013 after he was removed from the FIP finance committee and China committee. In a September 19 email, Mr Yunghanns fired an early shot. “Maybe the problem is anatomical in that he (Richard Caleel, FIP president at the time) unfortunately, lacks vertebrae, his intestinal strength, if it exists, is minimal and he lacks a couple of other appendages with which most males are endowed,” Mr Yunghanns wrote.
Justice Forrest said: “I consider this email containing … allegations of brain damage and the apparent absence of testes, to be highly provocative. It was merely an opening salvo in what was to become a regular stream of abusive correspondence.”
Mr Colquhoun-Denvers weighed into the debate in December 2013 claiming Mr Yunghanns’s attack was “bitter and insulting” and “unworthy of a gentleman or a member of FIP”.
Justice Forrest said: “In short, (Mr Yunghanns), who alleged deep hurt through being described as a purveyor of spurious accusations, described the FIP president as an ‘inept clown’ who was mendacious, duplicitous, cowardly, vainglorious, neutered and a megalomaniac. For the vice-president, he moderated his criticism and merely suggested that he may be an intravenous drug user.”
He said both parties failed to establish their claims and will hear them on costs.
REPORTERTessa Akerman is a reporter with The Australian’s Melbourne bureau where she covers general news. She previously worked for The Advertiser and The Daily Telegraph.