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Peter V’landys loses ABC defamation case appeal, but court says racehorse slaughter report treated him ‘shabbily’

The Racing NSW boss Peter V’landys has lost an appeal in his defamation case against the ABC over a report showing graphic footage of retired racehorses being slaughtered at a Queensland abattoir.

The 7.30 program titled The Final Race treated V’landys shabbily but did not defame him, Justice Steven Rares said on Friday.

V’landys had appealed against a federal court decision handed down in May 2021.

He sued the broadcaster and journalist Caro Meldrum-Hanna over the October 2019 program that included the confronting footage from the Meramist abattoir, north of Brisbane.

It also included footage of cruelty to racehorses as they were transported to knackeries for slaughter and commentary by prominent campaigners against cruelty to racehorses.

A recorded interview with V’landys was juxtaposed with graphic images of the mistreatment of former thoroughbred horses.

He claimed the report conveyed four defamatory meanings.

They included that as chief executive he “callously permitted the wholesale slaughter of thoroughbred horses” and “dishonestly asserted that no racehorses were sent to knackeries for slaughter” in New South Wales when he knew that was untrue.

V’landys said the broadcaster and Meldrum-Hanna had acted dishonestly and deceitfully by not showing him the distressing abattoir footage before interviewing him.

This was said to have caused his reputation as a regulator to be undermined and his reputation to be brought into public disrepute, ridicule and contempt.

V’landys appealed against the decision of Justice Michael Wigney, who had found none of the defamatory meanings were conveyed.

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The full court consisting of Justice Rares, Justice Anna Katzmann and Justice David O’Callaghan agreed with the original decision.

It was understandable V’landys was upset by the publication of the report, Rares said in delivering the judgment in the federal court in Brisbane.

“It treated him very shabbily because, although Ms Meldrum-Hanna had a wealth of evidence, such as the covert footage and the information about the Camden auctions, on which she could have sought his comments or confronted him, she deliberately never put that to him.”

He said the program had been aired with V’landys’ interview spliced between the criticisms by the Coalition for the Protection of Racehorses and an expert and the covert footage that conveyed hard-hitting criticism of V’landys without giving him the opportunity to respond directly.

“This was not high-quality journalism or fair or decent treatment of him.”

V’landys was ordered to pay the broadcaster’s legal costs.

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