A federal court judge dismissed Ben Roberts-Smith’s defamation charges against three newspapers and three journalists, Nick McKenzie, Chris Masters and David Wroe.
Roberts-Smith VC, Australia’s most decorated living soldier, said the Age, the Sydney Morning Herald and the Canberra Times vilified him in their articles and falsely portrayed him as a war criminal and murderer who “has broken the moral and legal rules of military engagement”.
In federal court in Sydney this afternoon Judge Besanko found that the newspapers had established the substantive truth of many of the indictments, including the murder charges.
She also found that news organizations had established the contextual truth about an SAS colleague’s allegations of domestic violence and bullying.
“In light of my conclusions, any proceeding must be closed,” he said.
Roberts-Smith received no damages in the ruling. Newspaper lawyers searched for several weeks for questions about the costs of the trial. These costs are expected to run into the tens of millions of dollars. Sources familiar with the case have suggested the cost of the case could have been as high as $35 million.
The civil suit is likely to cost Roberts-Smith millions of dollars in costs to award to newspapers. The cost of the trial is estimated at over $35 million.
Roberts-Smith is the managing director of Seven Queensland but stepped aside in April 2021 to focus on the lawsuit.
The former SAS corporal had taken out a loan, believed to be $2 million, from a company owned by his employer, Seven chairman Kerry Stokes, to fund his libel case.
The sentence is not a criminal finding of guilt, but a determination on the civil criterion of the “balancing of probabilities”.
This post updates.