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(AUSTRALIA) Sydney Federal Defamation Court Report: Twenty-one current and former soldiers from most elite military regiment will make unprecedented court appearances in the defence case of the newspapers being sued by veteran Ben Roberts-Smith #AceNewsDesk report

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#AceNewsReport – Jun.13: During the first week of the high-stakes defamation trial, the Federal Court in Sydney was given not only an insight into Mr Roberts-Smith’s risky battles against Taliban insurgents in Afghanistan, but a preview of how Nine Entertainment Co will defend the reports that triggered the case:

SYDNEY: Mr Roberts-Smith claims he was defamed by a series of stories published in 2018 by The Sydney Morning Herald, The Age and The Canberra Times, including by allegations of unlawful killings trial continues on Tuesday ……

Ben Roberts-Smith fought back tears as he gave evidence in court this week.(AAP: Dan Himbrechts)

Barrister Nicholas Owens SC, for Nine, said many of the 21 military witnesses had never spoken with one another about what they saw on deployments.

“Conspiracy between them, we will submit, is simply impossible,” he said during an opening address.

The Age, in Melbourne, is one of the Nine Entertainment mastheads being sued by Mr Roberts-Smith.(AAP: Luis Ascui)

Mr Owens framed the case as requiring a choice between “two diametrically opposed stories incapable of being reconciled to one another”; one, he suggested, had to be a fabrication.

Nine’s defence documents contain allegations Mr Roberts-Smith was involved in six unlawful killings, bullied Special Air Services Regiment (SAS) colleagues and committed an act of domestic violence against a woman in 2018.

Mr Owens described the SAS witnesses as “honourable men who could remain silent no longer”, adding that it took courage to speak up in such an organisation.

Mr Roberts-Smith’s legal team is arguing he was a “tall poppy” whose reputation as an “exceptional soldier” was destroyed by colleagues who were resentful of his success and aided by “credulous journalists” publishing dishonest work.

The 42-year-old spent much of his first two days in the witness box recounting, in vivid detail, his Afghanistan missions, some of which involved risking his own life for the sake of advancing his team’s progress.

Mr Roberts-Smith dismissed as “ridiculous” the allegation he was complicit in an Easter 2009 murder, in which a “rookie” soldier was ordered by another colleague to execute an unarmed man in order to be “blooded”.

Bruce McClintock, SC, said his client Mr Roberts-Smith was a victim of “tall poppy” syndrome.(AAP: Dan Himbrechts)

Equally as ridiculous, he said, was the allegation he carried a man with a prosthetic leg over his shoulder after clearing a compound, before shooting him 10-15 times with a machine gun.

But it was “particularly disgusting”, the veteran said, to be accused of murder during a 2012 mission in which he swam across the Helmund River to hunt down a suspected insurgent named Hekmatulla, who had earlier killed three Australians in a surprise attack.

“If anything, you’d think people would be proud of someone who’s prepared to do that,” he told the court yesterday.

Nine withdrew that allegation in their defence case shortly before the trial.

A central allegation in the reporting was put to Mr Roberts-Smith just before the court entered a closed session yesterday.

Nine’s articles alleged that during a 2012 mission in Darwan, a man called Ali Jan was handcuffed, led to a cliff by Mr Roberts-Smith and kicked over, before being executed on the creek bed.

Court documents show Nine is unsure who shot Ali Jan, but alleges Mr Roberts-Smith was part of an agreement with another colleague that he be killed.

Mr Roberts-Smith received Australia’s highest military honour after a fierce battle in Tizak in 2010.(ABC News: Kathleen Dyett)

Mr Roberts-Smith has told the judge he has never killed an unarmed prisoner and to be accused of doing so left him in disbelief.

“You feel like you’re in a bloody nightmare, to be frank,” he said.

He said he had legitimately engaged in combat a so-called Taliban “spotter” that day, who was hiding in a cornfield, but denied there was any cliff or any truth to the Ali Jan allegation.

The veteran has also described a change in “attitude” amongst his colleagues after he was awarded the Victoria Cross for a fierce battle in Tizak in 2010.

He said the accolade brought him pride, but also misfortune and pain because it “put a target on his back” and resulted in being belittled by fellow SAS soldiers.

Mr Roberts-Smith’s evidence will continue on Tuesday.

#AceNewsDesk report ………Published: Jun.13: 2021:

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