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Ben Roberts-Smith defamation trial: How ugly rumours tore the SAS apart

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Weeks of proof from present and former SAS troopers within the defamation trial of Ben Roberts-Smith have revealed a regiment at battle with itself.

For all their weapons of battle, bravery and fearsome repute, the defamation trial of Ben Roberts-Smith has this week revealed the soiled laundry of the SAS and claims the elite pressure turned on one another over rumours and gossip.

Mr Roberts-Smith is suing 9 newspapers over a collection of articles during which they claimed he killed unarmed Afghans exterior the lawful guidelines of battle.

9 maintains the articles are true and Mr Roberts-Smith denies every allegation.

A number of SAS troopers took the stand this month to present proof for 9 about key missions between 2009 and 2012.

The primary was the SAS assault on a Taliban compound often called Whiskey 108 on Easter Sunday, 2009.

Mr Roberts-Smith, in his proof final yr, informed the Federal Court docket he shot a Taliban fighter armed with a rifle exterior the compound.

The person had a prosthetic leg which was taken again to the SAS base, then Australia, as a macabre ingesting vessel, mascot and trophy for the troop.

9’s journalists, in 2018 articles, claimed the disabled Afghan had really been pulled from a tunnel unearthed contained in the compound and had been detained by the SAS.

They additional claimed Mr Roberts-Smith executed the suspected rebel with a burst of a machine gun after throwing him to the bottom.

The Victoria Cross recipient denies that allegation and stated nobody was discovered contained in the tunnel.

However Justice Anthony Besanko, this week, heard from a number of troopers that insurgents have been discovered within the tiny cavern.

SAS soldier Particular person 40 stated he noticed two males crawl from the crevice – one with a pretend leg who was on the lookout for “sympathy” from the Australian troops.

Particular person 40 informed the courtroom, not lengthy after the mission, he heard Mr Roberts-Smith had “pulled the set off” and killed the person with the pretend leg.

The troop had a dialogue, someday after the raid, about how “fallacious” it was that the Afghan died..

Particular person 40 agreed his suspicion of Mr Roberts-Smith was based mostly solely on rumours swirling across the regiment – he noticed nothing himself.

SAS soldier Particular person 14 claimed he witnessed an Australian soldier throw a human-like object to the bottom earlier than capturing it – nevertheless it was too darkish to determine the triggerman.

He didn’t inform the courtroom about any tunnel.

One other soldier, Particular person 43, stated he had helped pull one rebel out of the tunnel earlier than he was detained.

Particular person 43 was himself a senior member of the SAS, a patrol commander, through the Whiskey 108 raid and claims he noticed the invention of the tunnel.

Particular person 43 recognized an image of a slain Afghan as the person he pulled from the tunnel however stated there was just one man below Whiskey 108.

Mr Roberts-Smith’s barrister, Arthur Moses SC, stated Particular person 43 was spreading rumours in regards to the tunnel.

“It’s a ridiculous query. I’ve not informed rumours, I’ve informed information,” Particular person 43 stated on Friday.

The tunnel is essential as a result of 9 claims a second rebel was discovered there and executed by an SAS “rookie” both on Mr Roberts-Smith’s order, or with out his objection.

An SAS soldier, Particular person 41, informed the courtroom Mr Roberts-Smith pressured the second Afghan to his knees and informed the rookie to “shoot him”.

Particular person 41 informed the courtroom, on February 2, he unscrewed his rifle’s suppressor and handed it to Particular person 4 earlier than stepping out of the room – then a gunshot rang out.

“(The Afghan) had been shot as soon as within the head and the Afghan was useless on the bottom, fairly a little bit of blood flowing out of his head wound,” Particular person 41 stated.

Particular person 14’s recollection forged a distinct gentle – he claimed a distinct commanding officer bragged about “blooding the rookie” after Whiskey 108.

No different SAS soldier has claimed, in courtroom, that they noticed the blooding and Mr Roberts-Smith completely denies the declare.

Mr Roberts-Smith’s barristers prompt Particular person 4 had helped kill one other Taliban weeks earlier – so he didn’t must be “blooded”.

Particular person 4 objected to answering questions in regards to the Whiskey 108 raid as a result of he was involved about “self-incrimination”.

His barrister informed the courtroom its immunity certificates couldn’t forestall prosecution in worldwide courts.

The next yr, in 2010, Particular person 4 was pinned down by Taliban machine gun fireplace alongside Mr Roberts-Smith through the legendary battle of Tizak.

The next moments made Mr Roberts-Smith a nationwide hero however, the courtroom heard, gave rise to unhealthy blood that break up the elite regiment.

Mr Roberts-Smith has informed the courtroom his patrol fought towards the machine weapons, risking loss of life, the place he outflanked and killed the insurgents.

Just a few months later, again in Australia, he was awarded the VC “for essentially the most conspicuous gallantry in motion in circumstances of maximum peril” for silencing the machine weapons at Tizak.

Particular person 4 informed the courtroom he was alongside Mr Roberts-Smith and claimed he really killed one of many gunners.

The courtroom has heard squadmates believed Particular person 4 would get the VC not Mr Roberts-Smith.

One claimed the awards have been “politicised”, one other stated the quotation omitted Particular person 4’s courageous actions although admitted he wasn’t there to witness the firefight.

SAS soldier Particular person 18 stated “rumours have been working wild” that Mr Roberts-Smith threw a grenade with out first pulling the pin, and had rushed right into a constructing close to the machine weapons with a jammed weapon.

“Rumours are carried by haters, unfold by fools, and accepted by idiots,” The VC recipient’s barrister, Arthur Moses SC, stated to Particular person 18 earlier than the query was withdrawn.

Particular person 18 informed the courtroom he withdrew from the poisonous tradition of the SAS and it was like a “nation wives’ membership” riven by gossip about Tizak.

“You’ve informed individuals inside the unit Mr Roberts-Smith didn’t deserve the Victoria Cross,” Mr Moses requested.

“Sure, that’s been my opinion for the final 12 years,” Particular person 18 responded.

Particular person 18 would later be accused of battle crimes in an nameless risk, which he denies.

9 attributed the posted threats to Mr Roberts-Smith of their courtroom case and reporting, a declare he additionally denies.

The June 2018 letters warned Particular person 18 to recant his testimony to an ADF inquiry or he’d be outed as killing two prisoners at Tizak.

The excessive rating former soldier, Particular person 43, on Friday informed the courtroom he had doubts in regards to the quotation and whether or not Mr Roberts-Smith deserved the medal.

Particular person 4 informed the courtroom he turned embittered when he was ignored for the VC and it took two extra years for him to obtain a Medal for Gallantry for Tizak.

By that point, Particular person 4 claims, he had witnessed Mr Roberts-Smith commit a battle crime on a 3rd mission within the city of Darwan.

The courtroom has heard 9 had supplied a “side-deal” to Particular person 4 that he wouldn’t must testify in regards to the alleged “blooding” at Whiskey 108 if he spoke about Darwan.

One other choose, on Friday, dominated the settlement wouldn’t be a “fraud on justice” – regardless of arguments by Mr Roberts-Smith’s authorized staff.

Particular person 4 informed the courtroom he was standing within the city, on the sting of a dry river, wanting as much as a ledge the place an area shepherd had been detained by the SAS.

He informed the courtroom he watched Mr Roberts-Smith kick the Afghan, named Ali Jan, within the chest and he careered down a steep incline, shattering his tooth on a rock.

Particular person 4 claimed he helped drag Mr Jan throughout the dry river and was standing simply metres away as one other SAS soldier, Particular person 11, shot Mr Jan useless in entrance of Mr Roberts-Smith.

The courtroom has heard Mr Roberts-Smith’s enemies inside the SAS, mainly Individuals 6 and seven, used Particular person 4’s allegations towards Mr Roberts-Smith after conversations in 2016.

“You have been utilized by Particular person 7 to inform a narrative about Darwan so he might deliver Mr Roberts-Smith down,” Mr Moses prompt.

“I’ve suspected that,” Particular person 4 replied, later including he had felt “manipulated”.

Particular person 4 believed Mr Roberts-Smith’s enemies had leaked the allegations to the media.

There have been a number of conferences between teams of SAS troopers with the regiment’s commanders, the courtroom has heard, as numerous complaints have been made about Mr Roberts-Smith.

Particular person 4 broke down crying talking about Darwan to a commander and the management have been reluctant to behave, one soldier informed the courtroom.

Particular person 43, on Friday, stated he met with Mr Roberts-Smith’s critics to debate their doubts in regards to the Victoria Cross.

Mr Roberts-Smith’s patrol commander, from Tizak and Whiskey 108, was not invited and neither was the VC recipient’s shut buddy within the regiment, the courtroom heard.

“It was to debate Mr Roberts-Smith and so they weren’t on facet for lack of a greater time period.,” Particular person 43 informed the courtroom on Friday.

Particular person 43 then informed the courtroom he shouldn’t have stated there have been “sides” within the SAS, moderately it was simply individuals with “related opinions” about Tizak.

“What was related opinion you held?” Mr Moses requested.

“That the awarding of the VC was achieved in secrecy with out involvement of the remainder of the troop, and solely with the witnesses being amongst the identical patrol,” Particular person 43 stated.

“The precise wording of the award was what we believed was incorrect.”

Mr Roberts-Smith informed the courtroom the VC put a goal on his again for jealous squadmates .

I’ll preserve till the day I die the Victoria Cross is for what we achieved, since you can not go into battle alone. You need to do it collectively,” he stated in proof final yr.

The trial continues.

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