The defamation lawsuit launched by Ben Roberts-Smith against Nine newspapers has begun in Sydney with the elite soldier’s lawyers saying it is a story of courage and devotion to duty against corrosive journalism.
Mr Roberts-Smith arrived alone at Sydney’s Federal Court on Monday morning and faced a barrage of news cameras.
His only response was to thank a lone, elderly supporter who wished the Victoria Cross recipient “good luck” in the upcoming two-month trial.
Mr Roberts-Smith’s barrister, Bruce McClintock SC, told the court it was a case about “courage, devotion to duty, self sacrifice” versus “corrosive journalism, cowardice and lies” led by “bitter people”.
“This is a case about how a man with a deservedly high reputation of courage, skill and decency in how he carried out his military duties had his reputation destroyed by a campaign of jealous people,” he told Justice Anthony Besanko.
Mr McClintock said Australia prided itself on its military and came together each Anzac Day to pay tribute, but many were unwilling to confront the reality that war was incredibly violent.
The soldiers Australia celebrated, he said, were those who could and must kill enemies.
“The people reporting on matters involving (Mr Roberts-Smith) have forgotten that in their rush to tear him down,” he said.
Mr McClintock quoted Winston Churchill when he said “we sleep soundly in our beds because rough men stand ready in the night to visit violence on those who would do us harm”.
He detailed how Mr Roberts-Smith won his Victoria Cross by storming two machine gun nests and killing many Taliban “insurgents”.
That battle resulted in many, many dead Taliban fighters, he said, but the government prevented him from recounting the exact toll in open court.
Mr McClintock, earlier, said the commonwealth had not yet declassified documents he planned to refer to in his opening statement.
Mr McClintock said the documents related to a mission Mr Roberts-Smith was on in 2006, known as Rotation 3.
He urged the commonwealth to either declassify the documents or confirm it would keep them sealed as quickly as possible.
The trial will run for two months.