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Rush barrister savages actress as Telegraph journalism is branded ‘reckless and cruel’

A barrister for Geoffrey Rush has launched a blistering attack on The Daily Telegraph as he accused the Sydney tabloid of destroying lives and careers and of “reckless” and “cruel” journalism.

In a savage opening to his closing submissions, Bruce McClintock SC, said stories containing allegations against his client were the most “recklessly irresponsible journalism that….has come before the court”.

A Sydney Theatre Company publicity shot of the King Lear production at the centre of the court case

“The destructive effect is appalling,” he told the court.

McClintock, speaking on the penultimate day of the three week trial, said the Daily Telegraph had been warned not to publish by Sydney Theatre Company amid concern of the damage it would inflict.

“Did they care? Did they think about what they were doing?,” he said. “The answer is clearly no.”

The Telegraph wielded “power to crush lives and destroy careers without responsibility”, McClintock told the Federal Court.

Contrasting what the newspaper knew about the allegations and how the Telegraph presented the stories displayed “rank dishonesty”.

“These articles are reckless and, indeed, cruel irresponsibility,” he said, adding the newspaper “doesn’t care whose life and careers they smash and ruin”.

Taking over from McClintock, barrister Sue Chrysanthou emphasised repeatedly that it was not up to Rush to prove his innocence.

“The onus is on them,” she said.

Chrysanthou addressed remarks from Telegraph barrister Tom Blackburn who yesterday argued that the actress at the centre of the allegations, Eryn Jean Norvill, had no reason to lie

“Mr Blackburn said…..what could her motive be? Who cares?” she said emphatically. “That is not your honour’s job, it’s not our job, to speculate what is going on in her mind.”

It was irrelevant what her motive was, she said, adding that “many people lie, we don’t know why”.

Chrysanthou sought to dismantle the evidence of Norvill, branding the 34-year-old actress a serial liar who made things up as she went along.

She told the court that Norvill couldn’t keep track of her own lies.

Sue Chrysanthou with Geoffrey Rush

“She has told so many false stories she can’t keep them straight,” she said.

In a relentless attack on the former Home and Away star, Chrysanthou described her evidence as “rife with contradictions, inconsistencies and recent invention.”

“She was making stuff up in re-examination,” Chrysanthou said.

Norvill, she went on, had testified that many people during rehearsals of King Lear witnessed the lewd gestures and remarks allegedly made by Rush. On one occasion the court was told there were “titters of laughter” as she lay on the ground as Rush made “groping gestures” over her body.

“She said there were other people who saw it and were laughing. Who are they? Where are they,” she said. “Her evidence has to be considered against the sea of absent witnesses and there are a lot of them.”

The barrister told the court that suggestions there was a generational divide in the rehearsal room, or a “cultural” difference between “young and old” over what was acceptable behaviour was “rubbish”.

If that was the case why didn’t younger members of the cast and crew come forward, Chrysanthou asked.

Chrysanthou later added that Novill’s evidence “makes no sense whatsoever and the reason it makes no sense whatsoever is that it’s a complete lie”.

She detailed several claims made by Norvill in the witness box that did not appear in her “carefully prepared statement”

Among them were allegations Rush whispered in her ear during rehearsals, had fondled her hands as they waited to go on stage and that he stood too close to her during bows after performances.

“She clearly made this up in the witness box,” Chrysanthou said. “She never complained about the bow before. It was not in her statement and not in her evidence in chief.”

A King Lear co-star, Nick Masters, has apparently seen Rush get too close, she told Justice Wigney.

“Where is Mr Masters now? It’s another recent invention”.

Nor did Norvill mention in her statement that Rush has called her “scrumptious” and “yummy”, Chrysanthou said, even though she apparently “found them so offensive”.

Chrysanthou quoted evidence given by Norvill last week in which she said people were “frightened” of speaking up.

But she said it was “absurd” to suggest experienced actors like Robyn Nevin and Helen Buday – who both gave evidence but denied seeing anything “inappropriate” – were “frightened of Mr Rush” or had “enabled” his behaviour.

“Her evidence makes no sense and that’s because it’s not true,” she said.

Norvill’s co-star Mark Winter earlier testified in support of Norvill, telling the court Rush had been “doing a bit of a Three Stoogey skit over EJ”  as she lay on the floor during rehearsals.

“Mr Winter didn’t even regard it as an incident,” Chrysanthou said, to which Justice Wigney agreed.

Chrysanthou said Norvill had, on separate occasions, told Sydney Theatre Company manager Annelies Crowe and Winter that Rush had followed her into the toilets at the final night party in January 2016.

“Asked about it in the witness box she said she didn’t tell them that,” she said. “Are all these people making it up? They’re all wrong and Miss Norvill is right? I don’t think so.”

Chrysanthou also rubbished the allegation that Rush had touched Norvill’s breast during a production of the play, arguing that “everyone would have seen it”, including the audience who had a bird’s eye” view of the stage and who would have been watching Rush.

“Not one of the 960 people have come forward and said they saw it,” she said.

Another actor, Jacek Koman, was so close that he, too, must have seen it, Chrysanthou added.

Had Rush done what he is accused of doing “it would have made the scene a ridiculous farse”, she said.

Chrysanthou added that evidence from Mark Winter who said he saw Rush touch her left breast “completely contradicted” Norvill who said it was her right breast.

The barrister also rejected the portrayal of Norvill during proceedings as a young, inexperienced actor who was intimidated by Rush.

“King Lear was not her first play, she wasn’t a novice,” Chrysanthou said. “She wasn’t bottom of the rung.”

She added that Norvill and Rush had, since 2014, been “communicating as equals and as friends”. There was no “power imbalance”, she told the court.

Earlier, The Daily Telegraph argued its stories concerning allegations of inappropriate behaviour by Rush did not depict him as a pervert or a sexual predator.

Barrister Tom Blackburn SC, continuing his closing submission in the defamation case bought by actor, said the word “pervert” described someone who is a “sexual deviant”, such as a “peeping Tom”.

Such an inference was not portrayed in the Telegraph’s stories, he told the court.

Rush, who is suing both Telegraph publisher Nationwide News and its journalist Jonathon Moran, claims the stories portrayed him as both a “pervert” and a “sexual predator”.

Blackburn said the word word “pervert” is someone who “engages in sexual behaviour that is not just offensive but disgusting…..and bizarre.”

Beastiality was another example of a perversion, Blackburn said.

Asked by Justice Michael Wigney about the headline ‘King Leer’ which accompanied the first Telegraph story on November 30 last year, Blackburn argued that while ‘leering’ is “obviously offensive behaviour” it is not a “perversion”.

”It is straining the English language to call it a perversion,” he said. “Leering is completely different to a peeping Tom which is weird, bizarre and disgusting,”

It is on an “entirely different level”, he said adding the stories “just don’t make him out to be a pervert.”

Blackburn also argued that the stories did not portray him as a “sexual predator”

He told the court a sexual predator in the eyes of the “reasonable fair-minded reader” was someone who “preys” on another person “sexually or exploits them and does it repeatedly”

It describes an individual who takes “calculated and cold-blooded steps to ensnare the prey” or who “grooms the victim” which the stories do not portray, Blackburn said.

”There is nothing to suggest the notion of predation,” he said.

At one point, Justice Wigney referred to the Daily Telegraphs headlines.

”Sub editors, they just can’t help themselves with bad puns,” he said. “That’s putting it in mild terms.”

The case continues.

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