Ben Roberts-Smith to learn defamation fate

·2-min read
Dan Himbrechts/AAP PHOTOS

Almost 11 months after his lengthy trial, Victoria Cross recipient Ben Roberts-Smith will soon learn whether his defamation case over war crimes reports has been successful.

The former SAS corporal sued The Age, The Sydney Morning Herald and The Canberra Times in the Federal Court over 2018 reports claiming he committed war crimes in Afghanistan including murder, and acts of bullying and domestic violence.

The 43-year-old has denied all claims of wrongdoing, while the newspapers defended them as true.

Justice Anthony Besanko will hand down his judgment on June 1.

As the hearing wrapped up last year, Mr Roberts-Smith's barrister Arthur Moses SC described his client as a highly trained and experienced soldier whose reputation or courage, skill and decency had been "destroyed" by the media reports.

Elite soldiers who gave evidence against Mr Roberts-Smith were liars and gossips who were bitter and jealous over the ex-corporal's award of Australia's highest military honour for his role in the battle of Tizak in Afghanistan in 2010, Mr Moses said.

In the publications, Mr Roberts-Smith is alleged to have been a war criminal complicit in six murders in Afghanistan, a violent bully to his soldier comrades, and a domestic abuser to his mistress.

For one of the allegations, the newspapers rely on the eyewitness account of a former SAS soldier who said he watched the former corporal kick an unarmed prisoner off a cliff before the man was executed below.

Mr Roberts-Smith is seeking aggravated damages of up to 10 years or more in lost income from jobs including a partnership with consulting firm PwC and lucrative public speaking gigs.

He has not been charged over any of this alleged conduct and no findings have been made against him in a criminal court.

The defamation trial spanned over a year, hearing from over 40 witnesses, and wrapped up after eight days of closing addresses on July 27, 2022.

The legal bill alone from the case is estimated to have blown out to about $25 million.

In November 2020, a report into alleged war crimes by special forces in Afghanistan was released finding credible evidence that 39 civilians and prisoners were unlawfully killed by Australian troops while two others were subject to cruelty from 2007 to 2013.

Two years later, more than 40 soldiers were being investigated for their roles in these alleged crimes.

Only one, Oliver Schulz, has been arrested and charged over the allegedly unlawful killing of Dad Mohammad as he lay on his back in a wheatfield in Afghanistan's Uruzgan Province in 2012.

Mr Mohammad's father later made a complaint to the ADF, alleging his son had been shot in the head.

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