Federal Court dismisses Ben Roberts-Smith’s defamation claims against Nine publications, journalists

The Federal Court has dismissed Ben Roberts-Smith’s defamation claims against The Age, The Sydney Morning Herald and The Canberra Times, as well as journalists Nick McKenzie and Chris Masters.

Justice Anthony Besanko found the articles and the publications had proven some allegations of war crimes against Roberts-Smith and found those were sufficient enough to throw out the case.

Besanko said Roberts-Smith’s conduct in a number of missions has found the publications established the substantial truth of the imputations in the articles.

Besanko found the publications were able to establish the truth on Roberts-Smith murdering three Afghans, that he broke the moral and legal rules of military engagement, bullied a fellow soldier, and assaulted three other Afghans. The judgement however found the publications did not establish that Roberts-Smith committed an act of domestic violence.

The written judgement however has been delayed after the Federal Government has asked to review the reasons for the judgement and to ensure there was no inadvertent disclosure of national security information.

Nine managing director of publishing James Chessell issued the following statement after the decision:

“We welcome the Federal Court’s judgement that investigations by The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald were correct in their reporting that Ben Roberts-Smith commited war crimes.

“The findings by Justice Besanko today that Roberts-Smith’ participated in the execution of Afghans confirms our reports that the Victoria Cross recipient breached the Geneva Convention, and is a critical step towards justice for the families of the murder victims.

“The judgement is vindication for journalists Nick McKenzie and Chris Masters who began reporting this difficult and complicated story more than seven years ago. It is vindication for the many people in our newsrooms and our organisation is supporting important public interest journalism. Most importantly, it is vindication for the brave soldiers of the SAS.”

McKenzie also spoke in front of the media, saying: “Today is a day of justice. It’s a day of justice for those brave men of the SAS – you stood up and told the truth about who Ben Roberts-Smith is – a war criminal, a bully and a liar. Australia should be proud of those men in the SAS – they are the majority in the SAS – they stood up for what was right and they have been vindicated.”

The articles in question were published in 2018. Roberts-Smith filed the case within the same year. The trial started in 2021 and has cost all parties some $25 million.

The articles from The Age, The Sydney Morning Herald and The Canberra Times alleged that the Victoria Cross and Medal of Gallantry winner unlawfully murdered prisoners while deployed in Afghanistan.

A Seven Network spokesperson told Mumbrella: “Ben remains on leave and will review the judgement with us and make a decision on his future in the near future. We will make no further comment at this time.”


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