Allegations made against Ben Roberts-Smith in his Federal Court defamation case are based on “mere suspicion, surmise and guesswork” and should be rejected, his barrister has submitted on the final day of the trial.
Public hearings in the war veteran’s defamation case against The Age, The Sydney Morning Herald and The Canberra Times concluded on Wednesday after 110 days, 41 witnesses and more than $25 million in legal costs.
Justice Anthony Besanko reserved his decision and will deliver a written judgment at a later date.
“I’d like to thank counsel for their submissions,” Besanko said. “The parties will be advised when I’m in a position to hand [my judgment] …down.”
Arthur Moses, SC, acting for Roberts-Smith, urged the court to reject the newspapers’ truth defence, telling the court that allegations of war crimes leveled against his client had their genesis in the “corrosive jealousy” of a handful of his former Special Air Service comrades. The media outlets’ case was based on “mere suspicion, surmise and guesswork”, he said.
“On the first day of this trial, we submitted that this was a case about a man who had shown great courage, great devotion to duty, great self-sacrifice and great skill in soldiering,” Moses said. “We also said that it was a case of corrosive jealousy … lies and rumours. We contend we’ve made good each of these propositions.”
Moses said a “war of words” had erupted between Roberts-Smith, a former SAS corporal, and some of his former comrades after he was awarded the Victoria Cross, Australia’s highest military honour, in 2011 for his actions in a 2010 battle in Tizak , Afghanistan.
He said the evidence revealed those men had embarked upon a campaign of rumor and innuendo against Roberts-Smith and the newspapers’ journalists had “jumped on the rumors like salmon jumping on a hook” and published them as fact.
Moses rejected an allegation, made by the newspapers in court, that Roberts-Smith and four of his witnesses had colluded to give false testimony about one alleged incident, and said the evidence demonstrated a “clear absence of collusion”.