A former SAS soldier has said he will testify that Ben Roberts-Smith is a war criminal in Mr Roberts-Smith’s defamation case against Nine newspapers, a court has heard.
But, lawyers representing the war hero claim the new testimony has come about due to a closed-door deal with the media.
Mr Roberts-Smith is suing the newspapers over claims they defamed him by publishing false claims that he killed six prisoners during his deployment in Afghanistan.
Nine has said the claims are true.
The court has heard that several of Mr Roberts-Smith’s former SAS squadmates will give evidence that both supports and undermines the media giant’s allegations.
At least one soldier is expected to implicate himself in one of the alleged murders when he gives evidence in support of Nine.
In the most recent development, the Federal Court heard that another soldier was now willing to give evidence in relation to the alleged murder that has become the main focus of Nine’s claims.
The media company alleges that Mr Roberts-Smith kicked a handcuffed shepherd off a cliff in a remote Afghan village of Darwan in 2012.
Nine claims the shepherd, named Ali Jan, fell into a dry creek bed below and was then executed by an Afghan soldier assisting the Australian SAS.
One SAS soldier, referred to as Person 56, was in the village at the time and has now agreed to give evidence that corroborates Nine’s account.
However, Arthur Moses SC, Mr Roberts-Smith’s barrister, argued that Nine already accused the soldier of being involved in the war crime. Mr Moses also claimed that they had promised they wouldn’t ask about any other events during his time in Afghanistan if he testified against Mr Roberts-Smith.
“This is a flip, a flop and a flip again from Nine regarding a very serious murder allegation,” Mr Moses told the court.
“We are very troubled about this. They have reached agreement with Person 56. He will come to court and give evidence about one particular issue.”
He added that Nine was clearly troubled about the progression of the trial so far, and said he wanted to see communications between them and Person 56.
Nicholas Owens SC, Nine’s barrister, denied that there was any “deal” between the two parties.
“We have been able to establish contact with Person 56 and he agreed to speak to us – there is no side deal,” Mr Owens said.
He told the court that Person 56 would give evidence about Darwan, but would object if asked about anything else. Mr Owens added that Nine agreed they wouldn’t pressure him to speak about it.
He said Person 56 would be asked about the events in Darwan to support the claims made by Ali Jan’s relatives.
“We say Person 56’s account corroborates that of the Afghan witnesses and contradicts that of (Mr Roberts-Smith),” Mr Owens said.
The court also heard that Person 56 was involved in another incident where Mr Roberts-Smith was allegedly involved in executing an Afghan teenager.
Nine claimed that Mr Roberts-Smith and his squad planted evidence on the adolescent’s body, such as radios and weapons, in order to cover up the killing.
However, the court will decide whether Person 56 will be allowed to give evidence at a later date.
Image: Getty Images
This article first appeared on Over60.