Australia’s most decorated soldier has arrived at the Federal Court in Sydney ready for battle against the media outlets he says destroyed his reputation as a war hero.
Ben Roberts-Smith will spend the next two months in room 18D at the Law Courts Building in the central business district defending himself against claims he is a war criminal.
‘I’m feeling good mate, looking forward to finally setting the record straight,’ Mr Roberts-Smith told Daily Mail Australia ahead of the hearing.
His accusers have also assembled at the Federal Court as they try to prove on the balance of probabilities that Mr Roberts-Smith was involved in six murders during Australia’s longest war.
Australia’s most decorated soldier has arrived at the Federal Court in Sydney ready for battle against the media outlets he claims destroyed his reputation as a war hero
Ben Roberts-Smith will spend the next two months in room 18D at the Law Courts Building in the central business district defending himself against claims he is a war criminal
The ex-Special Air Service trooper is suing Nine-owned newspapers The Sydney Morning Herald, The Age and The Canberra Times over allegations he committed battlefield crimes while on deployment in Afghanistan, which he vehemently denies.
The stakes of the case are enormous. It has unsurprisingly been dubbed the ‘trial of the century’.
Legal sources have estimated Mr Roberts-Smith could reap damages of between $2-3million if his action is successful.
Mr Roberts-Smith’s case is being by the Seven Network’s owner, billionaire Kerry Stokes. The former soldier has taken leave as general manager of Seven’s Queensland operations for the duration of the hearing.
His accusers have also assembled at the Federal Court as they try to prove on the balance of probabilities that Mr Roberts-Smith was involved in six murders during Australia’s longest war
The trial is the culmination of an almost three-year battle for Mr Roberts-Smith to clear his name – or for media giant Nine Entertainment to prove its sensational allegations against him.
The 42-year-old Victoria Cross recipient is set to step into the witness box to defend his reputation this week.
‘My client wants to get in the witness box and he wants to expose the lies that… the respondents have told about him,’ his barrister Bruce McClintock SC said at a recent hearing. ‘He’s extremely anxious to do so.’
Mr Roberts-Smith was awarded the country’s top military honour for ‘selfless actions in circumstances of great peril’ while hunting a senior Taliban commander at Tizak in June 2010.
During his fifth tour of duty in Afghanistan, Mr Roberts-Smith had drawn enemy fire away from pinned-down members of his patrol, stormed two enemy machine-gun posts and silenced them.
Mr Roberts-Smith was awarded the Victoria Cross for ‘selfless’ actions in Afghanistan and will now fight for his reputation in the Federal Court, claiming he was smeared by media giant Nine Entertainment
During his fifth tour of duty in Afghanistan, Mr Roberts-Smith (pictured) drew enemy fire away from pinned-down members of his patrol, stormed two enemy machine-gun posts and silenced them
Mr Roberts-Smith’s ex-wife Emma has ‘flipped’ and is giving evidence for Nine Entertainment. The former couple is pictured together at a reception to celebrate military and civilian heroes in London in 2012
He had previously been awarded the Medal for Gallantry for his actions as a patrol scout and sniper near the Chora Pass in May 2006.
In his lawsuit, Mr Roberts-Smith alleges Nine’s newspapers and its journalists Nick McKenzie, Chris Masters and David Wroe defamed him in what was then known as the Fairfax press in 2018.
Among his claims is that the publications wrongly made out that he ‘broke the moral and legal rules of military engagement and is therefore a criminal.’
Mr Roberts-Smith says the newspapers falsely implied his alleged conduct had disgraced his country and the Army.
His parents Len and Sue Roberts-Smith have come to Sydney to publicly support their son. Mr Roberts-Smith senior is a retired judge of the Supreme Court of Western Australia.
‘The allegations have not only destroyed Ben’s life, but have affected us every day for the last several years,’ the couple said in a statement.
‘We never expected that our son would be unfairly attacked in this manner after he served his country in Afghanistan with distinction and risked his life.’
Nine Entertainment Co, the media giant which now owns the old Fairfax outlets, is defending their journalists’ claims on the basis the allegations are true.
Mr Roberts-Smith is also suing his ex-wife Emma Roberts, claiming she broke into his email account. She is pictured outside her Brisbane home on Friday
Mr Roberts-Smith has taken leave as boss of the Seven Network’s Queensland operations for the duration of the hearing. His case is being bankrolled by Seven’s owner, billionaire Kerry Stokes (pictured with wife Christine)
In his lawsuit, Mr Roberts-Smith alleges Nine’s newspapers and its journalists Nick McKenzie (pictured), David Wroe and Chris Masters defamed him in the then Fairfax press in 2018.
Regular interruptions when matters of national security are raised during the case are predicted, meaning some of the hearing will be heard in a closed court.
The newspapers will plead that Mr Roberts-Smith was complicit in and responsible for the murders of six people in Afghanistan, and that those alleged actions constituted war crimes.
Nine dropped a seventh murder claim – that he swam across a river, chased an unarmed Afghan man into a cave and killed him on September 11, 2012 – days before the trial was due to begin.
The onetime corporal will be the first witness of an expected 60 to be called before Justice Anthony Besanko at what is expect to be a ten-week trial.
After Mr McClintock gives his opening, the ex-soldier will give evidence and then face what is likely to be a week of cross-examination by lawyers for Nine.
Mr Roberts-Smith is pictured shaking hands with the Queen at Buckingham Palace at a reception for the Victoria Cross and George Cross Association in 2018
Former governor-general Dame Quentin Bryce pinned Mr Roberts-Smith’s Victoria Cross to his chest (pictured) and was expected to give a character reference at trial, however reports have claimed she has withdrawn
Character witnesses will then testify on his behalf. Former governor-general Dame Quentin Bryce was expected to be among them but she has reportedly withdrawn, despite writing the soldier a signed reference.
Nine’s witnesses will then testify. Mr Robert-Smith’s ex-wife Emma Roberts, the mother of his two children, is expected to give evidence for the publisher after ‘flipping’ sides.
Mr McClintock has suggested her appearance is about airing the family’s ‘dirty laundry’ and warned he will have to call Ms Roberts a ‘liar’.
Nicholas Owen SC for Nine previously told the court that Ms Roberts’ evidence would be include allegations of witness intimidation.
Mr Robert-Smith has taken separate legal action against his ex-wife, accusing her of potentially hacking into his email account ahead of the defamation trial.
One of his barristers, Arthur Moses SC, told the Federal Court last Friday evidence showed Ms Roberts ‘had access’ to an email account used by Mr Roberts-Smith to speak with his lawyers about an inquiry into Army conduct in the Afghanistan war.
His lawyers fear she may have shared some of that information with Nine.
Ms Roberts’ friend Danielle Scott, John McLeod – a former bodyguard of drug smuggler Schapelle Corby – alleged Afghani eye-witnesses and a handful of soldiers will also be called by Nine in the main trial.
Then Mr Roberts-Smith’s team will call evidence from his other witnesses, understood to include other SAS soldiers.
Among Mr Roberts-Smith’s claims is that the Nine Entertainment publications wrongly made out that he ‘broke the moral and legal rules of military engagement and is therefore a criminal.’ Mr Roberts-Smith is pictured