Channel Seven will be licking its wounds after employee Ben Roberts-Smith sensationally lost his defamation ‘trial of the century’.
Billionaire Kerry Stokes, executive chairman of Seven West Media, bankrolled the former SAS trooper and Seven general manager’s defamation case against Nine Newspapers who accused him of war crimes, to the tune of millions of dollars.
In an explosive judgement, Federal Court Justice Anthony Besanko’s on Thursday accepted that imputations made in the press that Mr Roberts-Smith is a war criminal, murderer and a bully were ‘substantially true’.
Mr Stokes said he was ‘disappointed’ in the ruling as it ‘does not accord with the man I know’.
‘I know this will be particularly hard for Ben, who has always maintained his innocence.
Billionaire Kerry Stokes (pictured), executive chairman of Seven West Media, bankrolled Ben Roberts-Smith’s defamation case to the tune of millions of dollars. He said he was ‘disappointed’ in the judgement as it ‘does not accord with the man I know’
Mr Roberts-Smith, Australia’s most-decorated living serviceman, was involved in killing unarmed prisoners while serving with the elite Special Air Service in Afghanistan, a judge has accepted today
‘That his fellow soldiers have disagreed with each other, this outcome will be the source of additional grief.
‘I haven’t had a chance to have a discussion with Ben as yet, but I will when he has had a chance to fully absorb the judgment.’
Daily Mail Australia asked Seven if they regretted backing Mr Roberts-Smith or if they would instead be bankrolling any appeal lodged by him but the company declined to comment.
Seven Group Holdings, the parent company for Channel Seven, saw its share price plunge nine cents in the wake of today’s damning findings before recovering as markets closed.
The marathon trial, which ran over 110 days and cost an estimated $25million, found in Nine Newspapers favour and has left Mr Roberts-Smith’s reputation and career in tatters.
It is unclear whether the Victoria Cross recipient will return to his former role as general manager for Seven in Queensland.
A spokesperson for the company said: ‘Ben remains on leave and will review the judgement with us and make a decision on his future in the near future.’
Mr Roberts-Smith, 44, provided his Victoria Cross and other battlefield decorations including his Medal for Gallantry as security for the massive loan from his employer to fight his defamation case.
Mr Stokes has said in the past that in the event he could not repay the line of credit Mr Roberts-Smith would donate the medal group to the Australian War Memorial. Mr Stokes stepped down as chair of the organisation in 2022.
Mr Roberts-Smith met his current partner PR guru Sarah Matulin (pictured together) while they were both working at Seven in Queensland
It is unclear what will happen to the medals given today’s damning verdict, which possibly leaves Mr Roberts-Smith open to a criminal prosecution.
There are already calls to strip Australia’s most-decorated living serviceman of his medals.
Mr Roberts-Smith was previously caught on tape saying he would be ‘f***ed’ without the financial backing of Mr Stokes.
‘Bottom line I’d be f***ed without him,’ he said in audio obtained by 60 minutes in 2021.
‘I probably won’t leave the fold now. I think I’m indebted a little bit now to Kerry.’
Mr Robert-Smith left the Australian army in 2013 and studied business at the University of Queensland.
A Seven spokesperson told Daily Mail Australia: ‘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’
‘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.
Two years later, he joined Seven Media as a deputy general manager of the television network Seven Queensland.
Then-CEO of Seven West Media Tim Worner lauded Mr Roberts-Smith’s ‘leadership’ following his hiring, while former executive Neil Mooney described the soldier as an ‘outstanding person’.
He was later promoted to general manager of the network and of the station Seven Brisbane.