Culture

Roberts-Smith’s barrister says lack of evidence to support allegations by Nine newspapers will justify ‘largest award of aggravated damages ever in this country’

Ben Roberts-SmithRoberts-Smiths barrister says lack of evidence to support allegations by Nine newspapers will justify largest award of aggravated damages ever in this country
Allegations against Ben Roberts-Smith are fabrications or motivated by jealousy, the Victoria Cross recipients barrister has said at the opening of his defamation case against three Australian newspapers in the federal court.
In a combative opening before a packed courtroom in Sydney, Roberts-Smiths barrister Bruce McClintock SC stepped through several of the allegations of murder made against Roberts-Smith by the Age, the Sydney Morning Herald and the Canberra Times in a series of stories.
The court heard on Monday the newspapers alleged Roberts-Smith committed six murders, on five separate occasions, while deployed to Afghanistan as a member of the SAS regiment. He was also accused of bullying fellow soldiers, and committing domestic violence.
McClintock told the court there was no evidence to support any of these allegations and said one allegation of an unlawful killing, later withdrawn by the newspapers, was an outrageous allegation to make without evidence and justifies the largest award of aggravated damages ever in this country.
This is a case of courage, devotion to duty, self sacrifice and, perhaps most important of all, surpassing skill in soldiering on one hand. On the other hand, its a case about dishonesty, corrosive journalism, cowardice and lies led by bitter people, jealous of [Roberts-Smiths] courage and success, aided by credulous journalists.
McClintock emphasised to Justice Anthony Besanko: War is violent, and that soldiers are required, at times, to kill the enemy.
He said Roberts-Smiths detractors had forgotten the violence of war in their rush to tear him down.
McClintock quoted a phrase sometimes attributed to Winston Churchill: We sleep soundly in our beds because rough men stand ready in the night to visit violence on those who would do us harm.
Roberts-Smith was in the courtroom, supported by his parents. He is expected to give evidence later this week.
Roberts-Smith, 42, is suing the newspapers for defamation over a series of ­reports published in 2018 which he alleges are defamatory because they portrayed him as someone who broke the moral and legal rules of military engagement and committed war crimes, including murder.
Roberts-Smith has consistently denied the allegations, saying they were false, baseless and completely without any foundation in truth.
The trial is expected to run for at least eight weeks.
He walked into court alone, wearing a suit, and did not speak to waiting media, but greeted a well-wisher with a brief thanks mate.
His mother, Sue, and father Len, a judge and major-general in the Australian army, hugged him when they arrived and took up seats behind him.
McClintock attacked some of Roberts-Smiths former comrades as failures as soldiers. Some of them will give evidence later. McClintock conceded Roberts-Smith had enemies within the SAS regiment.
Being thought of as a failure as a soldier has a corrosive effect on a person.
McClintock said many of the soldiers were suffering, physically and psychologically, from their repeated tours of Afghanistan. He argued that the number of missions required of frontline SAS troops was almost inhumane.
He said some of those giving evidence in the trial might be confused, mistaken, or have false memories because of the trauma over a number of years.
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