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Ben Roberts-Smith's Defamation Case Fails

Updated: Jul 18, 2023

Ben Roberts-Smith is a former Australian Special Air Service (SAS) soldier who was awarded the Victoria Cross for Australia, the highest military honour in Australia, for his actions in Afghanistan in 2010. In January of 2012, he filed defamation claims against three Australian newspapers, The Age, The Sydney Morning Herald, and The Canberra Times, over a series of articles that alleged he had committed war crimes, including murdering unarmed prisoners and civilians while serving in Afghanistan.

The allegations against Roberts-Smith included:

  • Kicking a handcuffed prisoner off a cliff and ordering other soldiers to shoot him.

  • Shooting a man with a prosthetic leg

  • Forcing a young recruit to execute an unarmed elderly man.

  • Bullying and assaulting his comrades.

In his judgement, Federal Court Justice Anthony Besanko, found that the newspapers allegations that Mr. Roberts-Smith had murdered civilians and bullied comrades were "substantially true." This verdict did not find Mr. Roberts-Smith criminally guilty, but the allegations were found to be true and proven against the civil standard of "the balance of probabilities."

Speaking to reporters from the Nine Network following the judgement, Mr. Roberts-Smith said:

"I'm devastated... It's a terrible outcome and it's the incorrect outcome."

Mr. Roberts-Smith also stated that he and his colleagues had done nothing wrong and would not be apologising:

"We haven't done anything wrong, so we won't be making any apologies."

As a result of the judgement, Roberts-Smith was ordered to pay the newspapers' legal costs. The Australian commonwealth is also seeking access to evidence gathered during Mr. Roberts-Smith's defamation trial to use in ongoing war crimes investigations. The Brereton Inquiry, an independent inquiry into war crimes allegations in Afghanistan, is still ongoing, and whether or not Mr. Roberts-Smith will face further legal action remains to be seen.

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