Pensioner loses extraordinary legal golf cheat case

Rosemary Ayim
By Rosemary Ayim December 10, 2014 15:13

A pensioner who took his golf club and the Golfing Union of Ireland to court over a golf cheat case has lost his appeal and faces a huge legal bill.

The result has also caused Ireland’s chief justice to criticise the case for wasting nearly three months’ of the country’s top courts’ time.

supreme court alex loach

Ireland’s Supreme Court. Image by Alex Loach

The extraordinary case began between 2002 and 2003, when Thomas Talbot, now 76, returned a large number of score cards at Hermitage Golf Club, which resulted in numerous adjustments to his handicap, which he then challenged.

The minutes of the club’s handicap sub-committee at the time recorded ‘13 further cards received from Tom Talbot – clearly for handicap building purposes’ and Mr Talbot received a handicap certificate that had the words ‘General Play (Handicap Building)’ written on it.

Mr Talbot said this implied he was a golf cheat and therefore took the golf club to the High Court for defamation and, in 2012, a judge ruled in the golf club’s favour. He appealed and this year that appeal was heard in Ireland’s Supreme Court – amazingly the case in total was discussed in court over a period of 83 days, until three Supreme Court judges dismissed the appeal.

Ireland’s chief justice, Ms Justice Susan Denham, called for greater use of judge-managed litigation and said the system “would benefit by further development and use of case management so the best use can be made of scarce court resources for the benefit of all litigants”.

In the original High Court case, Mr Justice Herbert rejected claims Talbot had been defamed and there had been a conspiracy against him by the club.

While other golfers could conclude ‘handicap building’ meant deliberately inflating one’s handicap, the words were only published in a limited form to a computer programmer who designed software for the club, including for handicap records. This limited publication meant the club enjoyed qualified privilege from being sued, Mr Justice Herbert said.

Part of the reason why the case lasted so long was because Mr Talbot, a retired insurance official, represented himself, and called in a number of witnesses to cross-examine, who it seemed were unlikely to be able to help him.

“These were examined and cross-examined by him, sometimes at astonishing length and in a bewildering fashion,” said Mr Justice Charleton, one of the Supreme Court judges.

Talbot has been ordered to pay the legal costs now he has lost the case – which are thought to be at least £400,000.


Rosemary Ayim
By Rosemary Ayim December 10, 2014 15:13
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