SAS corporal Ben Roberts-Smith, 44, denied having a hand in the killing of six captives and sued three newspapers in his homeland that made the allegations in 2018.
But Justice Anthony Besanko, sitting on the civil case at Sydney’s Federal Court, ruled that reports about four of the six murders were substantially true.
Proven allegations included that Victoria Cross-holder Roberts-Smith killed a prisoner who had a prosthetic leg by firing a machine gun into the man’s back in 2009.
He kept his victim’s artificial limb, dubbed it “das boot” and would drink beer from it.
Roberts-Smith, who is 6ft 7in and the son of a judge, was also found to have kicked an unarmed, handcuffed farmer off a cliff.
He then directed a soldier under his command to shoot the prisoner dead in 2012.
On another occasion, Roberts-Smith, who was at Queen Elizabeth’s funeral last year, pressured a “newly deployed and inexperienced” soldier to kill an elderly, unarmed Afghan to “blood the rookie”, the judge ruled.
Justice Besanko found that reports of two murders had
not been proven. Nor were reports the soldier attacked his lover or that he threatened a subordinate.
But allegations that he had unlawfully assaulted captives and bullied peers were found to be true. The judge said Roberts-Smith “broke the moral and legal rules of military engagement” and disgraced Australia through his conduct”.
Had such allegations been made in a criminal court instead of a civil one, they would have had to be proven to a higher standard of beyond reasonable doubt. However, Roberts-Smith, given the Medal of Gallantry for his Afghan heroics, is among Australia’s military under investigation by police for alleged war crimes.
During the defamation case his lawyers blamed “corrosive jealousy” by “bitter people” within the SAS who had run a “poisonous campaign against him”.
The Sydney Morning Herald, The Age and The Canberra Times had stood by their reports. Reporter Nick McKenzie praised SAS veterans who testified against the “hero”.
He said: “Yesterday was a day of justice for those brave men of the SAS who stood up and told the truth about who Ben Roberts-Smith is – a war criminal, a bully and a liar.”
Roberts-Smith’s lawyer Arthur Moses asked for 42 days to consider lodging an appeal.
The case’s legal costs have been underwritten by billionaire Kerry Stokes, executive chairman of Seven West Media where Roberts-Smith was employed after leaving the Armed Forces.
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