In the courts: Blackballed golfer sues club over rough justice

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The Independent Online
Four years ago Northwood Golf Club hit the headlines in an extraordinary Channel Four documentary. This week it will make news again when a former member takes legal action against the club's decision to expel him. Michael Streeter, Legal Affairs Correspondent, looks at the background.

Joe Brennan became a national figure when a Cutting Edge film captured his treatment by committee members who were furious at his daring to question long-cherished procedures.

In the furore following the programme, which exposed the antediluvian way the club in Middlesex was run, most of the directors resigned, with their attitude towards Mr Brennan a key reason for members' discontent with the board.

However, Mr Brennan, a member for 12 years, was himself expelled by the new board last year, accused of conduct "unworthy or injurious to the character of the Club". This included allegedly making disparaging remarks about North- wood to a local newspaper.

On Tuesday the 55-year-old retired businessman will embark on the first step in overturning what he sees as the "injustice" of his expulsion.

Mr Brennan says: "It is a great shame - it's a lovely golf club and the vast majority of members are perfectly ordinary nice people. It just seems to be dominated by this clique."

The documentary mercilessly probed what one reviewer called the "fossilised social attitudes" of the club, including a scene where the president chided women members for a small breach of flower protocol which had upset his wife.

However, Mr Brennan, who is funding the costly legal action himself, believes that the new set of directors have got "even worse" in tightening rules. He also describes how one former director, who was drawn to play a round of golf with Mr Brennan, refused to shake hands with the alleged trouble-maker and would not share a pot of tea after play. "Some of them sent me to Coventry and even refused to look at me!"

Despite such attitudes, Mr Brennan, from Ruislip, Middlesex, says he still wants to be a member, but admits that the expulsion last April has affected his current appetite for the sport. "I haven't played much since, only once or twice."

He sees himself as no natural rebel, claiming that he was simply "sucked into events" by the documentary and its aftermath. "But I am very upset that our golf clubs are run on this basis - though I think this one is exceptional!"

His court claim is that the procedures used to expel him were against natural justice. At tomorrow's hearing, he will be seeking leave from the High Court for judicial review of the club's decision to expel him. The club said it had no comment.