VC winner's status 'smashed and destroyed'

·3-min read

Australia's most decorated soldier Ben Roberts-Smith will seek aggravated damages from media companies that "smashed and destroyed" the Victoria Cross winner's reputation, a court has heard.

The former special forces corporal, 42, is suing the publishers of The Sydney Morning Herald, The Age and The Canberra Times for defamation in the Federal Court over articles alleging he committed war crimes in Afghanistan, and assaulted a woman.

On Tuesday, Mr Roberts-Smith's barrister Bruce McClintock SC told the court that there was no soldier in Australia better known or more highly respected than his client prior to the media reports being published in 2018.

But Mr McClintock said the effect of the articles was to "smash and destroy that reputation", arguing that aggravated damages were being sought to "vindicate the applicant in the eyes of the public".

He said the allegations against the former SAS soldier were not trivial, but were accusations of murder and war crimes.

"There really can be nothing more serious than that," the barrister said.

He also described a claim of domestic violence against his client as "inordinately damaging" to Mr Roberts-Smith.

Mr McClintock told the court that claims against his client lacked evidence, were made in bad faith and had not been removed by the respondents.

"The damages should ultimately be sufficient to restore my client's reputation," he said.

The court heard that prior to the articles, Mr Roberts-Smith had a profitable career as a public speaker for which he earned gross income of $320,000 in the 2018 financial year, but that the business "evaporated" after the allegations were made.

It was told that the war hero's speaking business losses were estimated at $475,000 to the end of last year.

The court also heard there had been a "very serious diminution" in Mr Roberts-Smith's future earning capacity and that the former soldier was offered a partnership at a large accounting firm which he declined after hearing of the allegations.

"They agreed it would not be appropriate for him to move forward," Mr McClintock said of the abandoned partnership role.

He said witnesses to be called at the trial, estimated to last up to 10 weeks, will include identification witnesses, reputation witnesses, and a forensic accountant.

Mr McClintock told the court Dame Quentin Bryce would not appear as a witness for Mr Roberts-Smith for personal reasons, but said the former governor-general had never withdrawn her support for Mr Roberts-Smith.

The court was told Mr Roberts-Smith will likely take the stand on Wednesday.

The rest of Tuesday's proceedings are closed to the public due to national security issues.

Mr Roberts-Smith launched the civil action in 2018 over the media reports that he says accused him of murder during his 2009 to 2012 tour of Afghanistan with the SAS.

The former soldier rejects all claims made against him while the publishers have put forward a truth defence.

The trial continues in closed court before Justice Anthony Besanko.