The woman with whom Ben Roberts-Smith was having an affair – and who is at the centre of an allegation of domestic violence against him – is expected to give evidence in his defamation trial Tuesday afternoon.
The trial has spent weeks focused on Australian SAS missions in Afghanistan, with a series of former comrades giving evidence about actions on operation, but it will shift its focus to Australia as the woman, anonymised in court documents as Person 17, to enter the witness box.
Roberts-Smith, a recipient of the Victoria Cross and one of Australia’s most decorated soldiers, is suing the Age, the Sydney Morning Herald and the Canberra Times for defamation over a series of reports he alleges portray him as committing war crimes, including murder, as well as acts of bullying and domestic violence.
The newspapers are pleading a defence of truth. Roberts-Smith denies all wrongdoing.
Person 17 and Roberts-Smith had a relationship in 2017 and 2018 while both were married to other people.
The newspapers allege Roberts-Smith was violent towards Person 17 on one occasion, punching her in the face following a function at Parliament House in March 2018, allegedly because he was worried her behaviour had revealed their affair.
Roberts-Smith, in his evidence last year, said the claim was “completely false” and “a fabrication”, and that Person 17 had injured herself when she drunkenly fell down the stairs. He said he treated her injuries and stayed up all night monitoring her condition.
The court heard that after the relationship broke down in the days after the function, Person 17 arrived unannounced at the Roberts-Smith’s family home in Queensland, and confronted his then wife, Emma.
Emma Roberts, in her evidence to this trial, said Person 17 had a black eye on that day, which she said had been caused by a drunken fall.
But when Roberts’s mother, also present, asked “‘are you saying that Ben did that to you?’… [Person 17] didn’t answer”.
The court has also heard when Person 17 told Roberts-Smith she was pregnant with his child, he did not believe her, and paid a former policeman-turned private eye to follow her to a Brisbane termination clinic and film her. Roberts-Smith later confronted her, and Person 17 told her she’d lost the pregnancy earlier.
On Monday, a former comrade of Roberts-Smith, a still-serving member of the SAS known before the court as Person 7, spent his fourth days in the witness box detailing his service alongside, and relationship with, the Victoria Cross winner.
Under cross-examination, the soldier denied that telling journalists about war crimes allegations was an attempt to “tarnish” the reputation of decorated veteran Ben Roberts-Smith, saying he only wanted the allegations he’d been told by other soldiers to be “taken seriously”.
Person 7, subpoenaed to give evidence for the newspapers, denied he was waging a vendetta against Roberts-Smith, motivated by jealously, but said he felt obliged to speak out when confronted by “egregious” allegations.
Arthur Moses SC, acting for Roberts-Smith, put it to Person 7 that his motivation in speaking to journalists was to “tarnish” the Victoria Cross winner’s public reputation.
“No I don’t accept that … I wanted Australia to take these allegations seriously,” he told the court.
“I am a senior [non-commissioned officer] in the army, I was told of an allegation of an egregious nature, I am not walking past that,” Person 7 said in earlier evidence.
Person 7 fought alongside Roberts-Smith at the 2010 Battle of Tizak, for which Roberts-Smith won Australia’s highest military honour, the Victoria Cross. Person 7’s cross-examination spent several hours focused on his attitude towards Roberts-Smith’s medal.
Person 7 said he believed Roberts-Smith’s formal citation, which details him storming insurgent machine-gun posts “with a total disregard for his own safety”, contained “lies and embellishments” which exaggerated Roberts-Smith’s actions at the expense of some of his comrades.
There was forensic focus in court on the wording of the citation: whether an insurgent killed in the firefight was armed; on the intensity of the gunfire during the 13-hour battle; around a grenade thrown by Roberts-Smith which did not detonate; and whether an enemy position captured by Roberts-Smith was fortified and elevated.
Moses suggested to Person 7 that he had “just not let go” of Roberts-Smith being awarded the VC for his actions at Tizak.
“I let this go a long time ago,” the witness replied. “I got on with my life.”
Person 7 remains in the witness box. The trial, before Justice Anthony Besanko, continues.