Judge ‘perplexed’ by Rush claims as actress is heralded an ‘honest and brave’ witness

The judge presiding over the Geoffrey Rush defamation trial has told a barrister for the Daily Telegraph that he finds it “perplexing” and “extraordinary” that the actor would deliberately touch a co-star for his own “sexual gratification” during the key moment of a play.

Justice Michael Wigney also said Rush would needed to have been a “contortionist” to have touched Eryn Jean Norvill’s left breast in the way described by fellow King Lear star Mark Winter.

Justice Wigney was hearing closing submissions from Tom Blackburn SC, as Daily Telegraph publisher Nationwide News defends articles claiming Rush behaved “inappropriately” during a stage production of the Shakespeare play in 2015/16.

Stressing earlier to Blackburn that he was playing “devil’s advocate”, Justice Wigney said the submissions that Rush deliberately touched Norvill’s breast were “perplexing me a little”.

Describing Rush as a “quintessential professional actor” who demonstrated “intense passion” for his job, Justice Wigney recalled evidence from the actor that he entered a “sort of meditative state”, and thought of his daughter in a car accident in order to get the “right amount of emotional impact”.

“At first blush it is absolutely extraordinary in light of that intense preparation….that Mr Rush would intentionally touch Miss Norvill for his own sexual gratification.”

Doing something so “extraordinary” and “potentially destructive” in front of 900 people was “quite bizarre”, he added.

“I find it difficult to get straight in my mind,” the judge added, stressing that he had “not formed a view”.

Blackburn told the court Norvill bore all the “hallmarks of an absolutely truthful witness” who had no reason or motive to lie.

Blackburn conceded that co-star Mark Winter, who gave evidence last week, had indicated it was Norvill’s left breast Rush had touched. Norvill had earlier said it was her right breast.

Notwithstanding the varying recollections, he said their evidence was “consistent”.

After studying photographs of the key scene – where Rush, as Lear, is grieving over the body of his dead daughter Cordelia, played by Norvill – Justice Wigney questioned the feasibility that it was her left breast.

“You would almost have to be a contortionist to do it,” he said.

Blackburn disgreed.

Earlier in his closing submission, Blackburn said Norvill was an “impressive and brave” witness who endured a “florid and extravagant” cross examination from Rush’s counsel Bruce McLintock SC.

Blackburn said she was accused of “telling a pack of disgusting lies” to which she demonstrated “dignified restraint”

He reminded the court that Norvill had not wanted to make a formal complaint about Rush, and did not speak to any journalist.

“She desperately, desperately wanted to keep out of the limelight,” he said. “She was an absolutely, fundamentally honest witness.

”There is absolutely nothing for Miss Norvill except distress, exacerbated by the way she was cross examined and the accusations Mr McLintock was making.

“She didn’t receive any money or any other consideration from the Daily Telegraph or anyone else.”

Nor was she seeking publicity or driven by “vengeance”. She just wanted to ensure “that it didn’t happen to anyone else”, Blackburn said.

The only reason anyone would go through such an experience was if they had a “true story to tell”, he told the court.

Daily Telegraph barrister Tom Blackburn SC

Blackburn turned to the evidence of Robyn Nevin, a King Lear co-star and long time friend of Rush, who sent text messages of support to Norvill the day of the second Telegraph story on December 1, even though at that stage Norvill had not been identified.

Norvill had claimed she had brought up the subject of sexual harassment with Nevin when they appeared in a play in mid 2016 with Nevin saying “Oh, I thought Geoffrey had stopped doing that, poor Jane”.

Nevin denied that happened but was unable to say how she knew Norvill had been the complainant.

Robyn Nevin

Blackburn said it “just didn’t make sense” that Nevin had not questioned Norvill about the allegations in the text messages if she thought Rush was being falsely accused.

“Nowhere in those texts does she say ‘why are you making these accusations about one of my closest and best friends’,” Blackburn said. “It just doesn’t make sense. There is no defense of her friend in these texts.”

Justice Wigney regularly interrupted Blackburn when the Telegraph barrister moved on to submissions concerning Rush’s alleged inappropriate behaviour, in particular claims the actor called Norvill “scrumptious” and “yummy”.

“Come on, really?” he asked over whether such language in a “theatrical” and “florid” workplace could be deemed inappropriate. “Context is everything in terms of something like that. I have to say I am grappling with it.

“I wouldn’t say to anyone they were scrumptious and yummy, but I’m a boring lawyer.”

Blackburn responded that such behaviour was “inappropriate in the modern workplace” and should be seen in “totality” with other behaviour including lewd gestures and making an hourglass figure with his hands.

Justice Wigney also interjected over Blackburn’s submission over a text sent by Rush to Norvill in June 2016 in which he told the 34-year-old actress he had been thinking about her “more than is socially appropriate”.

Blackburn said it was “different” from texts the pair has exchanged from 2014 in which they were both “intellectually flirtatious”.

“Let’s be clear, this was an invitation,” Blackburn told the court. “He was putting it out there to see if he got a response.”

“An invitation for what?” Wigney said. “Are you seriously saying he was expecting some sort of affair or something? That’s bizarre. I struggle to see sinister aspects of this. It’s not as if he says ‘do you want to meet in a cafe or some other rendezvous.”

Blackburn will resume his submissions tomorrow after which Rush’s legal team will begin their closing statements.


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