News, Culture & Society

Ben Roberts-Smith girds for messy defamation fight

Ben Roberts-Smith’s ex-wife Emma has ‘flipped’ and will testify on behalf of Nine at his defamation trial, the Federal Court heard last month

Australia’s most decorated soldier is preparing for battle, this time in court – with his professional reputation on the line in the defamation ‘trial of the century’. 

But Ben Roberts-Smith faces an ugly twist in his bid to clear his name of what he calls false war crimes allegations leveled by Nine newspapers. 

The former Special Air Service corporal’s ex-wife and mother of their two daughters, Emma, has ‘flipped’, as the Financial Review reported, and is expected to give evidence for the defence at trial. 

The Federal Court heard last month that Emma may testify that her husband asked her to lie about matters related to the defamation suit.

Mr Roberts-Smith, 42, is suing The Sydney Morning Herald, The Age and The Canberra Times over a series of articles published in 2018 which he said wrongly alleged he disgraced the Army. 

The media outlets are defending the defamation action on a truth defence. The court is expected to hear argument on Thursday on whether the media outlets can include evidence from Emma and other witnesses at trial. 

Channel Seven announced on Monday that the ex-soldier was stepping aside from his senior executive role at the network to focus on the forthcoming trial until at least September.

Mr Roberts-Smith’s defamation action is openly being bankrolled by the station’s billionaire chairman Kerry Stokes and network sources confirmed to Daily Mail Australia that, in another gesture of support, the ex-soldier is on paid leave, presumably on his executive salary.

Emma Roberts-Smith is just one of a string of surprising names expected to testify as witnesses when the trial kicks off in just weeks. 

Emma Roberts-Smith has spoken previously of how she went to bed many nights not knowing if her war hero husband was still alive while on deployment

Emma Roberts-Smith has spoken previously of how she went to bed many nights not knowing if her war hero husband was still alive while on deployment

Surprise witness: Australia's first female Governor-General Quentin Bryce will give evidence as a reputation witness to Mr Roberts-Smith at trial

Surprise witness: Australia’s first female Governor-General Quentin Bryce will give evidence as a reputation witness to Mr Roberts-Smith at trial

Australia’s first female governor-general, Dame Quentin Bryce, will be a reputation witness for Mr Roberts-Smith, his barrister told the Federal Court last week. 

Dame Quentin pinned Mr Roberts-Smith’s Victoria Cross – the nation’s highest honour – to his chest in 2011.  

Giving evidence for the defence via video link from a law firm office in Kabul, Afghanistan, will be four Afghan villagers, a judgment by Justice Anthony Besanko said last week.

According to the judgment, one villager specifically claims he saw ‘the applicant’ – Mr Roberts-Smith – kick a farmer named Ali Jan off a small cliff in Uruzgan Province in September 2012.

Another witness alleges ‘he saw a big soldier kick Ali Jan off a cliff. He claims that a short time later he heard gun shots’.  

Mr Roberts-Smith has strenuously denied what he said are ‘false allegations’ made about him which are ‘completely without any foundation in truth’. 

Mr Roberts-Smith himself wants to get into the witness box ‘and give his side of the story’, his lawyer has told the court.  

The case will go to trial on June 7 and is expected to run for eight weeks.

Mr Roberts-Smith this year debuted his new girlfriend Sarah Matulin - who quit her job at Channel Seven when their relationship became serious

Mr Roberts-Smith this year debuted his new girlfriend Sarah Matulin – who quit her job at Channel Seven when their relationship became serious

Mr Roberts-Smith left the army in 2013 and began studying business at the University of Queensland

Mr Roberts-Smith left the army in 2013 and began studying business at the University of Queensland 

Seven CEO James Warburton announced Mr Roberts-Smith was on leave, effective immediately, in an all-staff email on Monday.

‘Ben and I believe this mutual decision is best for both him and our company,’ Mr Warburton wrote. 

‘We expect Ben to return to his role upon the completion of his defamation proceedings.

‘As the trial is currently set down for eight weeks, it’s likely that won’t be until after August.’  

Seven sources stressed that his leave was pre-arranged and had been a long time in the works.  

Mr Roberts-Smith landed in strife a few weeks ago after he was recorded in leaked audio praising Kerry Stokes but disparaging other Seven West Media staff.  

Ben Roberts-Smith has taken leave from Channel Seven amid his upcoming legal battle with rival Nine

Ben Roberts-Smith has taken leave from Channel Seven amid his upcoming legal battle with rival Nine

 

Mr Roberts-Smith is suing Nine newspapers for defamation over articles accusing him of committing war crimes in Afghanistan

Mr Roberts-Smith is suing Nine newspapers for defamation over articles accusing him of committing war crimes in Afghanistan

In audio recordings obtained for an exposé by 60 Minutes, Mr Roberts-Smith was openly dismissive of the claims against him and pointed to Stokes’ loyalty and wealth as a cause for optimism.

‘There’s no f***ing way I’d be able to keep paying what I’m paying for until Kerry got into it,’ Roberts-Smith says in the recordings.

‘That’s why now they’re s****ing themselves now because he’s prepared to run his bank down to do it.’ 

Roberts-Smith admitted he is ‘indebted’ to the powerful media boss. ‘Bottom line I’d be f***ed without him,’ he says of Stokes in the audio.

‘I probably won’t leave the fold now. I think I’m indebted a little bit now to Kerry. 

‘I’d be f***ed without him.’

Mr Roberts-Smith landed in strife a few weeks ago after he was recorded in leaked audio praising boss Kerry Stokes but disparaging other Seven West Media staff

Mr Roberts-Smith landed in strife a few weeks ago after he was recorded in leaked audio praising boss Kerry Stokes but disparaging other Seven West Media staff

Queen Elizabeth II shakes hands with Mr Ben Roberts-Smith at Buckingham Palace in 2018

Queen Elizabeth II shakes hands with Mr Ben Roberts-Smith at Buckingham Palace in 2018

Roberts-Smith hit back at the bombshell report, claiming the expose, which also focused on separate claims surrounding alleged secret tapes, was ‘not supported by any evidence’ and part of a plan to ‘intimidate’ him to abandon his defamation suit.

‘Mr Roberts-Smith has grave concerns as to whether the broadcast this evening by Nine is an attempt to intimidate him into not proceeding with his case against Mr McKenzie and Nine,’ he said in a statement. 

Mr Roberts-Smith left the army in 2013 and began studying a masters of business administration (MBA) at the University of Queensland.

Channel Seven handed the VC winner a role as the Deputy Regional Manager of Queensland’s regional network. 

Then-CEO of Seven West Media Tim Worner lauded Roberts-Smith’s ‘leadership’ following his hiring, while former executive Neil Mooney described the soldier as an ‘outstanding person’. 

‘Ben will be an excellent leader. He is an outstanding person. When it comes to leadership he ticks all the right boxes,’ Mooney said at the time of Roberts-Smith’s appointment to the role.  

Kerry Stokes (pictured), who is worth an estimated $6billion, has openly financed Mr Roberts-Smith's legal defence

Kerry Stokes (pictured), who is worth an estimated $6billion, has openly financed Mr Roberts-Smith’s legal defence 

Read more at DailyMail.co.uk