Historical aircraft enthusiast abruptly withdraws defamation case against fellow aficionado
A defamation dispute between two historical aircraft enthusiasts over the alleged plundering of plane wrecks from Papua New Guinea has met an abrupt.
The case was suddenly withdrawn on the fifth day of the trial.
Robert Greinert and John Brooker were once fellow members of the Historical Aircraft Restoration Society (HARS), a hobbyist group founded in 1979 and based south of Wollongong.
But their friendly relationship faltered and in 2017 took a nose dive when Mr Greinert filed a defamation case against Mr Brooker in the NSW Supreme Court.
He alleged Mr Brooker had defamed him in comments to 60 Minutes reporter Ross Coulthart, as part of a 2016 story alleging Mr Greinert had illegally exported war relics from PNG.
The defamation case trundled through the court system for four long years before Mr Greinert’s day in court finally came on Monday September 6, 2021.
But by Friday — after giving evidence and being cross-examined — Mr Greinert had abandoned the lawsuit and agreed to pay Mr Brooker’s costs.
A spokesperson for Mr Greinert told NCA NewsWire he had “agreed to meet the costs of Mr Brooker as part of a commercial settlement of a case which, if it had continued, would have been very costly, time-consuming and a distraction to Mr Greinert’s other business interests.”
Mr Greinert said in a statement he was “glad to put the matter behind him”.
“I undertook the proceedings with reluctance given that Mr Brooker and I were once very good friends and work colleagues,” he said.
“Given the costs involved in continuing the matter and third parties were being unnecessarily drawn into my legal action, it is best for all involved to move on.”
Mr Brooker’s lawyer Bill Kalantzis described Mr Greinert’s choice to sue his client and not Channel 9 as “most unusual”.
“Mr Greinert withdrew his case at the end of his evidence after nearly three days of cross examination and before Mr Brooker gave his evidence,” Mr Kalantzis said.
“As part of withdrawing his case, Mr Greinert has agreed to pay Mr Brooker’s costs on the highest scale, known as the indemnity basis.”
A large part of HARS was hunting down wartime relics wherever they lay, in locations as near as regional junkyards and as far as the Arizona desert, and restoring them for display in a museum or even flight.
The defamation case centred on an 1998 agreement struck between Mr Greinert and the Papua New Guinea National Museum and Art Gallery relating to three plane wrecks
Mr Brooker alleged in the 60 Minutes program that Mr Greinert had signed the agreement on behalf of HARS when he had no authority to do so.
He also told the program the seal used by Mr Greinert was “a fake” and read “Historic Aircraft Restoration Society” instead of “Historical Aircraft Restoration Society”.
Mr Greinert claimed these were falsehoods that gravely injured his reputation and caused him hurt and embarrassment.
His barrister Kieran Smark SC told the court Mr Brooker had complained about Mr Greinert and HARS to the Department of Fair Trading and the police, but the authorities had only reached the “not surprising conclusion that HARS could have done a better job with its bookkeeping”.
In response to the lawsuit, Mr Brooker filed defences of truth, honest opinion and qualified privilege, which requires someone to have acted reasonably in publishing information in the public interest.
In court documents, Mr Brooker said he spoke out in part because he was worried about how Mr Greinert’s actions would impact both the people of PNG and the reputation of HARS.
“(Mr Brooker) knew that there was very little chance of Robert Greiner’s misbehaviour being revealed by anyone in the Historical Aircraft Restoration Society because of Greinert’s financial influence over the society,” his defence read.
The matter was formally discontinued on September 10.
Mr Greinert also sued another 60 Minutes interviewee, Benjamin Morgan, as part of the same lawsuit, but the pair settled before trial.
Originally published as Historical aircraft enthusiast abruptly withdraws defamation case against fellow aficionado
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