This week, the infamous defamation case between Ben Roberts-Smith and The Age, The Sydney Morning Herald and The Canberra Times plays out in court.
After months and months of back and forth, the legal proceedings will come to a head. The trial is expected to continue for at least two months.
On Tuesday in court, Roberts-Smith’s legal team made it clear he is seeking millions of dollars in damages because of his now “smashed” reputation, according to SMH.
The case is complicated, so what do you need to know?
Roberts-Smith is a former SAS soldier who is a recipient of the Victoria Cross for Australia – the highest award in the Australian honours system – which is why you will read articles referring to him as Australia’s most decorated soldier because despite his currently soiled reputation, he is one of only four living Australians with that honour.
According to The Australian War Memorial he was awarded this honour because in 2010 while searching for a Taliban commander, “he took part in an assault against an enemy fortification, exposing his own position in order to draw fire away from members of his patrol who were pinned down. Fighting at close range, he stormed two enemy machine-gun posts and silenced them.”
Roberts-Smith is also an outspoken mental health advocate and famously led the Australia Day Council that selected Rosie Batty as Australian of the year in 2015.
You may also know him from when Yumi Stynes made headlines in 2012 after making a joke at Roberts-Smith expense on The Circle. Stynes later apologised for her comments after a severe backlash in defence of the war hero.
In 2015, Roberts-Smith started working at Seven Queensland and was promoted two months’ later to general manager.
Allegations against Roberts-Smith were originally published in June 2018 by SMH. The piece posed a loaded question: “Ben Roberts-Smith is one of Australia’s most respected public figures. So why are so many questions being asked about his past?”
The article alleged that during his time serving in Afghanistan, he brutally mistreated unarmed Afghans and bullied his fellow soldiers.
The report also claimed he fell out with two soldiers over what they described as “unnecessary murder” and committed domestic violence against his mistress, punching her at an event in Canberra.
During 2018, Fairfax Media (which is now owned by Nine) continuously published articles about Roberts-Smith discussing allegations about his personal life and work as a soldier, often citing unnamed sources to protect their identities.
Ultimately, the media publications accused Roberts-Smith of six assault allegations.
Two particularly shocking claims that stand out is that he was accused of promoting the illegal practice ‘blood the rookie’ by pressuring an inexperienced solider into murder and that he was responsible for pushing an unarmed Afghani man off a cliff.
Robert-Smith denied all these claims. He also claimed the injuries his mistress had sustained were from when she fell over at the same event in Canberra.
The mistress admitted she did fall, but claimed he punched her afterwards. Roberts-Smith also declared he was separated from his wife at the time. However, the mistress provided text messages that did seem to suggest otherwise.
In 2018, Fairfax Media merged with Nine Entertainment and became Nine. The Canberra Times was then bought by 2019 by Anthony Catalano and Thorney Investment Group.
By late 2018, Roberts-Smith filed defamation papers against all three publication and three journalists, most notably respected journalist Nick McKenzie.
According to The Guardian, Roberts-Smith claims the allegations are false, “completely without any foundation in truth.”
However, the defamation case has not deterred the publications from continually covering stories involving Roberts-Smith.
A particular damning allegation that has come out post-2018 is that Roberts-Smith shot a man in 2009 with a prosthetic leg and then later used his prosthetic leg as a drinking vessel. Photos of soldiers with this leg have since gone viral.
So, what is happening now?
Well, a lot, with the defamation case having kicked off on Tuesday.
In April this year, Roberts-Smith announced he was taking leave from his role as GM of Seven Queensland because of his upcoming defamation trail.
Meanwhile, Roberts-Smith’s legal pursuits are being backed by his boss and billionaire Kerry Stokes. In recordings leaked by Nine, Roberts-Smith can be heard saying: “There’s no fucking way I’d be able to keep paying … until Kerry got into it,”
The media publications have all denied they defamed Roberts-Smith and are using a truth defence in court.
Several SAS soldiers will be giving evidence for the defence under pseudonyms to protect their identity.
Roberts-Smith’s ex-wife, Emma Roberts, will also be giving evidence. Interestingly, on the eve of his defamation case, the former SAS soldier took Roberts to court over his belief she was still accessing a private email account he had.
Originally, Roberts was meant to be a witness for the Roberts-Smith case and testify to say they were separated at the time of his affair.
However, she now alleges that he wanted her to lie and say they were separated at the time of the affair, but they were still married, according to SMH.
Roberts now will be providing evidence for the defence.
She has also disclosed that Roberts-Smith threatened to sue her if she did not lie for him, while according to The Australian Roberts-Smith’s lawyer has declared he will have to call Roberts a “liar,” if she gives her testimony.
And if that was not all dramatic enough, Roberts-Smith’s romantic life is still being called into question. In August 2020, The Courier-Mail published photos of Robert-Smith scootering and holding hands with one of his lawyers, Monica Allen.
According to The Australian Financial Review, he was spotted as recently as Tuesday returning to the building where Allen usually resides, which doesn’t help rumours that they may be in a romantic relationship.
On Wednesday in court, the judge quizzed Roberts-Smith about his relationship with this lawyer. According to The Guardian Robert-Smith’s Senior Counsel clarified in a hearing that, “the applicant (Ben Roberts-Smith) and the deponent (Allen) are not in a relationship. Full stop”.
The following two months should be incredibly interesting as we watch the complex case unfold.
Roberts-Smith is due to give evidence in court today.
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