The owner of a strip club has been successful in her defamation proceedings against the Herald Sun and awarded $90,000 in damages, with the Supreme Court of Victoria finding that the published article, which stated that the strip club was a venue for meetings between corrupt police and outlaw motorcycle gangs, was defamatory of the owner of the club and was not protected by qualified privilege.
On 16 May 2013, the Herald Sun published a front page article, written by Andrew Rule, about investigations being conducted by Victoria Police into police officers suspected of having corrupt relationships with outlaw motorcycle gangs in the Goulburn Valley. A group called The Outlaws Motorcycle Club (the Outlaws) was named in the article. The article said that members of the Outlaws “are regulars at a raunchy strip venue, named Club Rawhide” (the Club). The front page article continued on page 4, with a longer article by the same author, Mr Rule. In the longer article, Mr Rule referred to the Club more extensively, suggesting that it is a venue where corrupt police and the Outlaws did, or could, meet to exchange information. The person who ran the Club was referred to by the name “Madam Black Mercedes”.
Raelene Hardie is the part owner and manager of the Club.
Ms Hardie commenced proceedings against the Herald Sun and Mr Rule, in defamation and claimed damages. She alleged, in substance, that she was defamed by the two articles which she says state that she runs a venue regularly attended by members of an outlaw motorcycle gang, at which police gave secret tip-offs to them, and that she is a brothel madam, running a brothel at the Club. Ms Hardie argued that members of the Outlaws did attend the Club from time to time, but that the Club was never a venue for meetings between corrupt police and members of the Outlaws. She also argued that she is not a brothel madam, and that the Club is not a brothel.
The Herald Sun and Mr Rule denied liability for defamation. They argued that what was said about the Outlaws regularly attending the Club was true, and that what was said about the Club as a venue was not defamatory of Ms Hardie and was protected by qualified privilege if it was. They also argued that the articles did not say that Ms Hardie was a brothel madam or that the Club was a brothel.
His Honour Whelan JA found that the statement that members of the Outlaws regularly attended the Club was true, and that Ms Hardie is not a brothel madam and the Club is not a brothel, but also found that the articles did not say as such. However, his Honour found that what was said about the Club as a venue for meetings between corrupt police and the Outlaws was defamatory of Ms Hardie and was not protected by qualified privilege. His Honour assessed the damages suffered by Ms Hardie as a consequence of the defamatory statement at $90,000.
Accordingly, Whelan JA upheld Ms Hardie’s claim and awarded damages in the sum of $90,000: Hardie v The Herald and Weekly Times Pty Ltd  VSC 364.
This article was written by Jackie Waugh, Torts writer and first appeared in the Australian Tort, Health and Medical Law Tracker.