Ben Roberts-Smith has broken down again describing how claims he was a war criminal left him ‘crushed’ as he denied each and every serious allegation made against him by Nine newspapers.
Australia’s most decorated soldier said he started to think his life was over after reading articles accusing him of murdering prisoners while serving in Afghanistan.
‘From 2018 to the current day my life has changed dramatically. My life has been ruined,’ he said.
‘My family life became untenable, my private business fell over. I am extremely fortunate that I have an employer that is understanding.
‘I am constantly racked with anxiety and to be able to face people every day takes an amazing amount of effort.’
Mr Roberts-Smith said he put on a brave face when dealing with people because that was what was expected of a Victoria Cross recipient.
‘And I work very hard to maintain that presence in front of people because I think that they deserve it,’ he told the court. ‘But in the end I don’t sleep properly.’
Ben Roberts-Smith said he started to think his life was over after reading articles accusing him of murdering prisoners while serving in Afghanistan. He is pictured arriving at the Federal Court on Wednesday
Australia’s most decorated soldier, Ben Roberts-Smith, has denied punching a woman with whom he was having an affair in the face after a Parliament House function in 2018. He is pictured with ex-wife Emma Roberts and their children
Barrister Bruce McClintock SC asked his client how he thought the public viewed him now.
‘That’s the problem,’ Mr Roberts-Smith said. ‘I don’t know. I used to.’
Mr Roberts-Smith then referred to ‘deplorable’ claims he had punched his onetime mistress in the face, rather than the allegations of war crimes.
‘Now I walk down the street, people will look at me. The first thing I think of is that they think I hit a woman.’
Mr Roberts-Smith directly addressed Justice Anthony Besanko about how the allegations had ruined his life.
‘As I said Your Honour, I feel traumatised by it by it because I was sent to Afghanistan at the government’s behest to be part of the Australian military.’
‘I did everything that I was supposed to do and I followed the rules. I did the right thing.’
Mr Roberts-Smith has previously described shooting dead an insurgent machine gunner who he later realised could have been no mo more than 15.
‘I saw things in Afghanistan and did things in Afghanistan, like having to engage adolescents that I not proud of,’ he said.
Mr Roberts-Smith told of being forced to watch Afghans abuse women and children and not being able to do anything about it because of the rules of engagement.
‘And I accept that. But that is the trauma is the trauma I live with, only to come home and have those stories written about me that are so demonstrably false.’
‘I have had those moments in my life in the last three years that I just didn’t think it was worth it.’
But he respected the Victoria Cross and what it stood for, as well as the Australian Defence Force – people that I have worked with’.
‘I love my family, my children. And that keeps me going to set the record straight, and that’s why I’m here.”
Mr Roberts-Smith said between mid 2019 and January this year he had received four or five USB sticks containing photographs anonymously in the mail. He is pictured drinking at a bar in Tarin Kwot
Mr Roberts-Smith said he felt ‘betrayed and humiliated’ because everything he cared about had been taken from him, ‘in the space of a couple of articles’.
‘I served with honour and distinction and I always followed the laws of armed conflict and I never broke the [rules of engagement].
‘These people, using smears from people – other people that don’t like me – have written articles that suggest I’m a war criminal.
‘I have to watch my family’s good name be dragged through the mud for nearly three years… Three years. My family’s good name. Every day I have to think about that.
‘Every day I think about what’s going to happen to my children. What are peole goign to do or say to my children? What is the legacy of my family now because of those articles?
‘It was and it is something that just crushes me, crushes my soul, because I gave so much to that job. And it’s all lies.’
Mr Roberts-Smith was back in the Federal Court witness box in Sydney on Wednesday giving evidence in his defamation ‘trial of the century’ against Nine newspapers.
The papers have accused the Victoria Cross recipient of committing war crimes including murder during his multiple deployments with the elite Special Air Service in Afghanistan.
Mr Roberts-Smith has denied a Nine allegation he had buried USB sticks inside a pink plastic child’s lunch box in his backyard to hide them from police and military investigators.
He told the court that between mid 2019 and January this year he had received four or five USB sticks containing photographs anonymously in the mail.
‘In the main the photos were simply of the SAS operators themselves, so the guys just out in Afghanistan,’ he said. ‘And they were quite benign.
‘There were a lot of photos of the Fat Lady’s Arms and a number of parties.’
Mr Roberts-Smith (pictured left with barrister Arthur Moses SC) was back in the Federal Court witness box in Sydney on Wednesday giving evidence in his defamation ‘trial of the century’ against Nine newspapers
The Fat Lady’s Arms was an unofficial bar at the SAS base in Tarin Kowt and photographs have emerged of soldiers drinking there from a prosthetic leg souvenired in battle.
Mr Roberts-Smith said he had placed the first USBs he received in a Tupperware container which he put in the top drawer of his Sunshine Coast home.
When he permanently split from his wife in late January 2020 the USBs were still in that drawer.
In June that year Mr Roberts-Smith had gone to the house to visit his children and had picked up the USBs and personal files. He downloaded the photographs onto a laptop and sent all the images to his lawyer, Mark O’Brien.
He later cleared the laptop before trading it in to buy a new one.
Mr Roberts-Smith had earlier explained his wife had been friends with a woman called Danielle Scott who she had known since school.
‘It came to my attention that my wife and her friend Danielle Scott had access to the USBs for many months before I have recovered them,’ he told the court.
Mr Roberts-Smith said after newspaper reports began appearing about his service in Afghanistan he had asked Ms Scott to obtain pre-paid mobile phones for him, which he used to call former comrades.
‘My view was that I just needed to talk on something that wasn’t going to be compromised by the media and then used against me again in some other article.’
Ms Scott, a former Australia Post employee, had also helped Mr Roberts-Smith after he received an anonymous letter in December 2017.
The letter, which Mr Roberts-Smith believed was written by his mistress, said he had been seen in a hotel with a woman other than his wife and he should return to her and seek marriage counselling.
Mr Roberts-Smith had asked if Ms Scott had any knowledge of how the letter and its envelope could be analysed.
Mr McLeod is a ‘fixer’ who runs a private security consultancy called Tora Solutions which among other services helps Australians get out of foreign jails. Mr Roberts-Smith asked him to locate addresses of former SAS comrades. He is pictured with drug smuggler Schapelle Corby
Mr Roberts-Smith gave further evidence about his dealings with Queensland private investigator John McLeod.
Mr McLeod is a ‘fixer’ who runs a Brisbane-based private security consultancy called Tora Solutions which among other services helps Australians get out of foreign jails.
He was involved in bringing child retrieval expert Adam Whittington home from Beirut after four months in prison following the botched 60 Minutes rescue operation in 2016.
He was also reportedly involved in the release of Melbourne academic Kylie Moore-Gilbert from Iran where she was being held on trumped-up spying charges last year.
Most famously, the former policeman ran interference for drug smuggler Schapelle Corby when media were trying to report on her return from Bali to Queensland in 2017.
Mr Roberts-Smith said he engaged Mr McLeod’s services when he learnt former comrades had been alleging misconduct by him during his service in Afghanistan.
Believing he had identified six SAS members who were speaking to reporters – against Defence regulations – he asked Mr McLeod to obtain their addresses.
He was then going to hire Western Australian private investigators to find out if they had been talking to the media. The SAS is based in Perth.
Former governor-general Dame Quentin Bryce pinned Mr Roberts-Smith’s Victoria Cross to his chest (pictured) and was expected to give character evidence at his trial. She will no longer be doing so due to ‘personal reasons’ but has never withdrawn her support
Mr Roberts-Smith is suing The Sydney Morning Herald, The Age and The Canberra Times, along with three journalists who accused him of war crimes in including murder. He has also denied bullying colleagues and engaging in domestic violence
Before doing so he had tried unsuccessfully to get senior SAS officers and non-commissioned officers to talk to him about what he saw as a negative ‘whispering campaign’.
‘The bottom line is I felt I was being attacked publicly in the press and had no way of defending myself,’ he said.
The 42-year-old had not wanted to directly contact members of the regiment because he no longer knew who to trust.
He was also concerned some SAS members had the knowledge and skills to intercept electronic communications and was worried media might do the same.
Mr Roberts-Smith had gone to Mr McLeod because he knew him to be a private investigator who had good contacts in state and federal police forces.
He said he gave Mr McLeod six names and asked him if he could find corresponding home addresses so he could find out what was going on.
Mr Roberts-Smith told the court he had no intention of threatening those soldiers and Mr McLeod had never provided addresses for any of the six men.
He said he had never contacted or ordered surveillance on the soldiers, known as Persons 1, 6, 18, 42, 44 and another individual, and denied giving Mr McLeod a threatening letter to send to Person 18.
Mr McLeod is listed to give evidence for Nine during the hearing but lawyers for Mr Roberts-Smith have had trouble finding him to serve subpoenas for the trial.
Mr Roberts-Smith previously told the court he hired Mr McLeod to follow his mistress to hospital after she told him she was going to abort their child.
He said on Tuesday he had not believed the woman, known as Person 17, was pregnant and so asked Mr McLeod to film her attending a Brisbane hospital.
Mr Roberts-Smith said he had separated from his wife at the end of September 2017 and met Person 17 the next month.
Ben Roberts-Smith hired private investigator John McLeod to follow his mistress when she said she was getting an abortion. Mr McLeod is pictured with drug smuggler Schapelle Corby, a former client
Ben Roberts-Smith is suing three newspapers including The Sydney Morning Herald over claims he is a war criminal, bullied comrades and punched a woman in the face
Mr Roberts-Smith did not tell his wife about the relationship until they travelled to Singapore with their two children in January 2018 to see if they could work through issues which had plagued their marriage since 2015.
The couple’s separation continued after that trip but the pair felt they wanted to keep trying to make their marriage work.
In February 2018, Person 17 and her husband had travelled to London with their children, and when Mr Roberts-Smith broke off the affair he said she threatened self-harm.
Later in February back in Australia Person 17 told Mr Roberts-Smith she was pregnant but he did not believe her and hired Mr McLeod to find out if she was.
Mr Roberts-Smith said Mr McLeod followed Person 17 to Brisbane’s Greenslopes Private Hospital where she was to undergo an abortion.
The video Mr McLeod filmed at the hospital convinced Mr Roberts-Smith that Person 17 had made up the abortion story.
‘It became evident that she certainly had not had a procedure that day,’ he told the court.
When Mr Roberts-Smith confronted Person 17 she first said she had undergone an abortion in Townsville and then that she had miscarried.
The pair continued their relationship but he said t ended as a result of a function they attended on March 28 hosted by then prime minister Malcolm Turnbull at Parliament House.
The court heard Person 17 became so intoxicated at the function she fell down a set of stairs leading to an underground car park and suffered serious injuries to her face.
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. For his actions he was awarded the Victoria Cross
Nicholas Owens SC for Nine newspapers told the court that the day after Person 17 attended a function with Mr Roberts-Smith at Parliament House she exchanged text messages with the former soldier about injuries she had sustained to her head
Nine newspapers later published a story claiming Mr Roberts-Smith had argued with Person 17 after the function and was angry out of fear she had exposed their affair.
The papers claim that in response to Person 17 saying, ‘My head hurts’, Mr Roberts-Smith had said, ‘It’s going to hurt more’ or ‘I’ll show you what hurt is’ and punched her in the left eye.
Mr Roberts-Smith denied ever hitting Person 17 and said domestic violence was ‘deplorable’ and ‘a disgusting act of of cowardice’.
Mr McClintock has said the woman made no allegation of assault against his client until after he ended their relationship.
Mr McClintock said Nine was falsely alleging Mr Roberts-Smith had punched Person 17 in exactly the same place where she had been injured in the fall.
Nicholas Owens SC, for Nine, told the court that the day after the Parliament House incident Mr Roberts-Smith and Person 17 exchanged text messages about what had occurred.
Mr Roberts-Smith and his new girlfriend Sarah Matulin attended the Magic Millions together on the Queensland Gold Coast in January this year. His ex-wife Emma Roberts is due to give evidence against him in his defamation case against Nine newspapers
She had written: ‘I feel awful. I made a doctor’s appointment for this afternoon after speaking to [her husband] and sent him a photo.’
Mr Roberts-Smith allegedly replied: ‘Does he think I did it?’
Person 17: ‘Yeah, he did to begin with and he didn’t believe I had fallen down stairs. I just told him what we talked about.’
She had also said: ‘I’ve got some other bruises including a massive one on my thigh on the same side of my body which will hopefully make the falling story more believable.’
Mr Roberts-Smith allegedly replied: ‘OK well hopefully he believes you.’
He told the court he had asked if Person 17’s husband thought he had hit her because she was getting around with a large bruise on her head.
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
What we know about Ben Roberts-Smith and the ‘trial of the century’
Ben Roberts-Smith is suing Nine-owned newspapers The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age, plus The Canberra Times over allegations he committed battlefield crimes including murder.
His case, being heard in the Federal Court in Sydney, is expected to last ten weeks and is being bankrolled by his employer, the Seven Network’s billionaire owner Kerry Stokes.
Mr Roberts-Smith served six operational tours in Afghanistan with the elite Special Air Service and left the regular army in 2013 with the rank of corporal.
He was awarded the Victoria Cross for actions at Tizak in June 2010 and the Medal for Gallantry for an earlier battle near the Chora Pass in May 2006.
The newspapers will plead that Mr Roberts-Smith was complicit in and responsible for the murders of six people in Afghanistan, and that those actions constituted war crimes.
Nine alleges Mr Roberts-Smith killed insurgents who had been captured and none of the killings was the result of decisions made in the heat of battle.
Mr Roberts-Smith has also been accused of bullying other SAS troopers and punching a woman in the face at a Parliament House function in 2018, which he denies.
The 42-year-old says some of his onetime colleagues who are making allegations against him are jealous of his feats of soldiering and are telling lies.
He is the first witness to give evidence. His testimony will be followed by what is likely to be a week of cross-examination by lawyers for Nine.
Character witnesses will then testify on his behalf, followed by witnesses for the newspapers.
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.
Ms Roberts’ friend Danielle Scott, John McLeod – a former bodyguard of drug smuggler Schapelle Corby – alleged Afghani eye-witnesses and 21 serving and former SAS members will also be called by Nine.
Mr Roberts-Smith’s team will then call evidence from his other witnesses, understood to include former SAS comrades.
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
Mr Roberts-Smith is suing Nine-owned newspapers The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age, plus The Canberra Times over allegations he committed battlefield crimes including murder.
His case is being bankrolled by his employer, the Seven Network’s billionaire owner Kerry Stokes.
The former soldier has taken leave as general manager of Seven’s Queensland operations for the duration of the hearing.
Last week, Roberts-Smith told the court his heart was broken when he was publicly accused of war crimes while serving with the SAS in Afghanistan.
‘I spent my life fighting for my country and I did everything I possibly could to ensure I did it with honour,’ he told the court.
‘I listened to that and I really cannot comprehend how people, on the basis of rumour and innuendo, can maintain that in a public forum. It breaks my heart actually.
Asked by Mr McClintock how it felt to be specifically accused of murder, Mr Roberts-Smith said, ‘It’s devastating quite frankly.’
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
Mr Roberts-Smith’s evidence followed a brief opening statement by Nicholas Owens SC on behalf of the newspapers.
Mr Owens said Nine newspapers would call 21 serving and former SAS soldiers to give evidence against their former comrade.
He wanted to outline the core of the case so there could be no misconception about Nine’s position.
Mr Owens said none of the six murders Nine alleged Mr Roberts-Smith committed were the result of decisions made in the heat of battle or under ‘the fog of war’.
‘None of those six murders involve judgement calls,’ he told the court. None of the killings came about due to confusion over whether someone was an insurgent or civilian.
The former soldier has taken leave as general manager of Seven’s Queensland operations for the duration of the hearing
Mr Owens said each of the alleged murders involved the killing of Afghans in custody and were breaches of the Geneva Conventions which govern the rules of war.
‘The rules of engagement under which Australian troops operated in Afghanistan were – and indeed had to be – consistent with the Geneva Conventions.
‘And under the Geneva Conventions once a person has been placed under control, no matter that he may be without a shadow of a doubt the most brutal, vile member of the Taliban imaginable, an Australian soldier cannot kill him.’
Mr Owens said Mr Roberts-Smith had over years tried to undermine Nine’s evidence by attempting to influence witnesses via emails and telephone calls.
Mr Roberts-Smith served six operational tours in Afghanistan with the elite Special Air Service and left the regular army in 2013 with the rank of corporal.
He was awarded the Victoria Cross, 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.
The parents of Mr Roberts-Smith, Len and Sue Roberts-Smith depart the Federal Court. Mr Roberts-Smith is a former judge of the Supreme Court of Western Australia
Mr Roberts-Smith had drawn enemy fire away from pinned-down members of his patrol, stormed two enemy machinegun posts and silenced them.
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 the newspapers and journalists Nick McKenzie, Chris Masters and David Wroe defamed him in what was then 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.
Nine Entertainment Co, the media giant which now owns the Herald and Age, is defending their journalists’ claims on the basis the allegations are true.
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.
Mr Roberts-Smith has been the first witness of an expected 60 to be called at what is estimated to be a ten-week trial.
The court has already heard Mr Roberts-Smith lost $475,000 in earnings from public speaking engagements after he was accused of war crimes and domestic violence.
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
Mr McClintock said the effect of those stories had been to ‘smash and destroy’ Mr Roberts-Smith’s previously exalted reputation.
‘In 2018 when this material was published there could not have been a former soldier better known or more highly respected than my client,’ Mr McClintock told the court.
Mr Roberts-Smith would be seeking aggravated damages because according to Mr McClintock, the publisher knew some of their claims to be false.
The stories had been presented in a ‘sensational’ manner, included ‘unjustifiable allegations of murder’ and had not been withdrawn.
Whereas Mr Roberts-Smith was once much in demand as a speaker, after the stories were published even invitations to Anzac Day ceremonies stopped.
The former soldier had also been offered a partnership in a big accounting firm on a salary higher than he was earning with Seven West Media.
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 McClintock said it was ‘not a competition’ to set records for damages payouts but his client would need a sufficient amount to be compensated for the loss of his reputation and hurt.
‘The more serious the attack the greater the amount of money that’s necessary to vindicate,’ Mr McClintock said.
He said an accountant would estimate Mr Roberts-Smith had lost $475,000 from speaking engagements alone.
Mr McClintock also confirmed former governor-general Dame Quentin Bryce, who had presented Mr Roberts-Smith with his VC, would not be giving character evidence on his behalf ‘for personal reasons’ but had never withdrawn her support.
Mr McClintock told the court his client had been the victim of jealous former comrades who falsely accused him of committing war crimes.
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
‘This is a case about courage, devotion to duty, self-sacrifice and perhaps most important of all, surpassing skill in soldiering,’ Mr McClintock told Justice Anthony Besanko.
‘On the other hand, Your Honour, it’s a case about dishonest journalism, corrosive jealousy, cowardice and lies.
‘It’s also about how a man with a deservedly high reputation for courage, skill and decency… had that reputation destroyed by bitter people jealous of his courage and success as a solider, particularly his Victoria Cross, aided by credulous journalists.’
Mr McClintock said the former soldiers who made claims against Mr Roberts-Smith had not spoken up until years after the events they now complained about.
He suggested some of their claims were made out of jealousy over Mr Roberts-Smith’s medals for gallantry and their own failures as soldiers.
Mr McClintock said one false allegation Mr Roberts-Smith murdered an Afghani, which was recently withdrawn by Nine, should lead to aggravated damages.
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 in Afghanistan