Ben Roberts-Smith’s long-running defamation case has concluded in Sydney, with his barrister telling the court the decorated former soldier was the victim of a “war of words” from jealous comrades intent on tearing down his reputation.

After more than 100 days of evidence, 42 witnesses from around the world, hundreds of exhibits, and thousands of pages of transcripts, the year-long trial ended with closing submissions from legal teams Wednesday morning.

A judgment is not expected for several months.

Roberts-Smith is suing the Age, the Sydney Morning Herald, and the Canberra Times for defamation over reports he alleges wrongly portray him as a war criminal and murderer.

The newspapers are defending their reporting as true, including allegations Roberts-Smith was complicit in six murders while deployed to Afghanistan, was a bully, and a perpetrator of domestic violence. Roberts-Smith denies any wrongdoing.

On the final day of closing submissions Roberts-Smith’s barrister, Arthur Moses SC, repeated his fundamental argument in this case: that the allegations against him were motivated by the “corrosive jealousy” and “cowardice” of former comrades who chose to make “allegations in the dark”.

“It is crystal clear, we say, on the evidence, that the award of the Victoria Cross to Mr Roberts-Smith for his acts of bravery during the battle of Tizak in Afghanistan led to a war of words against him by persons who were jealous and bitter over his receipt of that award,” Moses said.

Moses condemned the newspapers’ reporters who, he said, “jumped on the rumours like salmon jumping on a hook and published them as fact when they were fiction”.

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“It is unfortunate that having had to confront danger and risk his life in Afghanistan being a target of the Taliban, that Mr Roberts-Smith and other brave members of the Australian Defence Force have returned home to become targets by some in the media who have carelessly published allegations of war crimes as fact, without knowing all the facts or what impact the making of such allegations would have on the reputation of the person or that they have suffered trauma.”

Moses said the repeated publication of allegations against Roberts-Smith “trampled on his reputation and his right to the presumption of innocence”.

But in earlier closing submissions barrister for the newspapers, Nicholas Owens SC, said the allegations made had been proven, and said the evidence before the court showed Roberts-Smith was “prepared to lie under oath” in the trial, evidence of his “consciousness of guilt”.

“Mr Roberts-Smith’s credit is seriously damaged, if not irreparably. He was willing to come to court to give false evidence,” Owens said.

Owens told the court Roberts-Smith waged a campaign of intimidation against witnesses set to give evidence against him and was the “architect or the knowing beneficiary of … dishonest collusion” with witnesses he called to support his case.

Owens said Roberts-Smith’s attempts to suborn or intimidate witnesses – including making criminal allegations against one soldier, and threatening to accuse another of murder – were evidence of his “consciousness of guilt”.

“He disbelieves his own case and needed to prevent other people from saying what actually happened,” Owens said.

Justice Anthony Besanko has reserved his decision.

Source: The Guardian