Final submissions in Ben Roberts-Smith defamation case begin

The closing moments of the Ben Roberts-Smith libel trial were marked by an extraordinary speech by the SAS soldier’s lawyer.

The Ben Roberts-Smith defamation case is at the beginning of the end, with his lawyers accusing nine newspapers of an “ongoing campaign” to falsely denigrate a Victoria Cross recipient as a war criminal, hooligan and domestic aggressor through baseless articles and a distorted court case.

The newspapers said in their latest appeal that Mr. Roberts-Smith and his comrades “calculated” and lied to cover up the truth about the brutal killings by the SAS.

There are now two full weeks of final submissions in what is variously called the trial of the century, a war crime by proxy and an attack on the free press.

But lawyers for Mr Roberts-Smith said on Monday their lawsuit is nothing more than an attempt to clear the name of one of Australia’s most revered soldiers.

Behind the endless debate about damages and defamation law is a “man case,” one of Mr. Roberts-Smith’s lawyers told the court on Monday.

“A man who suffered, who was once known as a hero, but now, thanks to (The Nine), has become a man who is widely reviled as a murderer and rapist of women,” Matthew Richardson told SC.

The lawyer quoted Mr. Roberts-Smith in his testimony a year ago as saying it was “traumatic” to be at the center of war crimes allegations.

“I served with honor and distinction and always followed the laws of armed conflict,” Roberts-Smith told the court.

“These people, using the slander of people who don’t like me, have written articles suggesting that I am a war criminal.”

Mr. Roberts-Smith said he was sent to Afghanistan at the behest of the Australian government and always did the right thing, even when it was terrible.

“What legacy is now left to my family because of these articles?” he asked rhetorically.

“That’s what crushes me, crushes my soul, because I gave so much to this job and it’s all a lie.”

Mr. Roberts-Smith brought legal action against publishers and journalists who published a series of articles in Sydney Morning Herald as well as Age newspapers in mid-2018.

The articles alleged that Mr. Roberts-Smith killed or was an accomplice in the killing of six unarmed prisoners on the battlefields of Afghanistan during his deployment to the SAS.

The articles also alleged that Mr. Roberts-Smith taunted other soldiers and physically abused a woman he met while in Australia.

Mr. Roberts-Smith vehemently denies all of Nine’s allegations, while newspapers defended the truth when they were sued for libel by an elite soldier.

After more than 100 days of gathering evidence, the Roberts-Smith and Ninth legal teams began to present their cases before Federal Court Judge Anthony Besanko.

Mr. Moses began his closing speech with a scathing denunciation of Ninth’s behavior, saying that newspapers refused to drop errors in their stories, even in the face of conflicting evidence, and instead used the court to make more unfounded accusations.

“It’s not about the road home to victory, as the (Nine) once said,” Mr. Moses said.

“It is more about the (Nine) use of this court’s processes to bring murder charges that will have national and international implications for the applicant and other members of the Australian Defense Force whom they accuse of murder.”

Ninth’s lawyer, Nicholas Owens, SC, described the case very differently.

He said it was no coincidence that all of his reluctant and distant witnesses gave sworn statements pointing to the guilt of Mr. Roberts-Smith, especially in the crucial 2009 mission known as Whiskey 108.

Nine claims that the SAS discovered two Afghans hiding in the tunnel and detained them before Mr. Roberts-Smith executed one and forced a junior soldier to execute the second.

SAS soldiers stationed at Whiskey 108 gave wildly conflicting accounts of the raid.

Some claimed to have witnessed the killings, while others claimed that the tunnel was empty so no executions could take place.

Mr. Owens claimed that all of Mr. Roberts-Smith’s witnesses were close friends of his who spent years concocting a story “calculated to deny the presence” of the Ninth’s key witnesses.

“Every witness has a motive to lie,” Owens said.

“(They) are a very close-knit group of people interacting regularly and showing clear affection for each other.”

One of these witnesses, according to Owens, has an additional motive for lying, as he is accused of jointly ordering one of the two executions at Whiskey 108.

The court heard numerous soldiers who were implicated in Ninth’s reports of war crimes allegations – many vehemently denied that they carried out executions, others refused to testify on grounds of self-incrimination.

But Mr. Moses said that even when the evidence was insufficient, Nine refused to drop serious charges against Mr. Roberts-Smith.

He pointed to the allegation that Mr. Roberts-Smith shot and killed a teenager during one mission that violated the lawful rules of war.

“According to the evidence, neither a boy of 13-14 years old, nor murders without justification were involved in any incident. This allegation was unfounded and should not have been pursued,” Mr. Moses said.

“Allegedly, he was urged to harm Mr. Roberts-Smith in addition to the other allegations made in this case.”

Mr. Moses told the court that Nine’s “sensational” stories came from bitter and envious SAS insiders who were trying to overthrow Mr. Roberts-Smith.

Federal MP Andrew Hastie is one of the SAS witnesses who, according to Mr. Moses, was “possessed” by Mr. Roberts-Smith, but was unable to provide evidence to support Nine’s murder claims.

Mr. Hastie, an SAS veteran who briefly worked with Mr. Roberts-Smith in 2012, provided Nine with evidence of one mission in the Siahchow area.

Nine alleged that Mr. Roberts-Smith ordered a junior soldier known as Man 66 to execute an Afghan captive during the mission.

Mr. Hastie was in Siahchow that day and told the court that he saw a dead body with an AK-47 and 66’s face looked uncharacteristically alarmed.

The deputy claims that Mr. Roberts-Smith walked by and said, “A couple more dead assholes.”

Mr Hastie also told the court that he had “dreams” about Mr Roberts-Smith in which they killed an Australian unit and “covered it up”.

The MP said he believed the dream was a metaphor for a “profound truth” about “what we did to ourselves” in Afghanistan.

Man 66 refused to testify about Syakhchev on the basis of self-incrimination.

Nine said his testimony would be a potential “path to victory,” but Judge Besanco refused to order Man 66 to testify about Siahchow.

Mr. Moses on Monday said there was simply no evidence to support Nine’s claim of the Siahchow murder, but the claim remains in their court documents.

Mr. Roberts-Smith’s legal team has never publicly disclosed how much money they want in damages for Nine’s articles.

But if Mr. Roberts-Smith’s suit succeeds, the payout could dwarf any other in the history of defamation due to the gravity of the numerous war crimes-related murder charges, his previous good name, previous business success and the “avalanche” of publicity that continued throughout history. a court case.

Originally published as ‘Slammed like a murderer’: Roberts-Smith closes case against Ninth with fiery speech