Australia

Ben Roberts-Smith tells defamation trial Victoria Cross ‘put a target on my back’

Ben Roberts Smith arrives at the Federal Court in Sydney on 11 June 2021. Source: AAP

Victoria Cross recipient Ben Roberts-Smith says the top military honour made him a target for some colleagues.

Ben Roberts-Smith has told a court that a Victoria Cross for his actions in Afghanistan in 2010 "put a target" on his back for other soldiers to undermine him.

Mr Roberts-Smith on Friday resumed giving evidence at his Federal Court defamation trial launched against the publishers of the Sydney Morning Herald, The Age and The Canberra Times.

The former soldier is suing the outlets over media reports from 2018 related to his military service in Afghanistan that he says depict him as a criminal who breached the moral and legal rules of military engagement.

The decorated veteran denies all allegations against him, while the publishers put forward a truth defence.

In his second day in the witness box, Mr Roberts-Smith recounted details of the SAS action at the Battle of Tizak for which he was awarded the VC, Australia's highest military honour.

The court was told he and other SAS soldiers were pinned down on June 11, 2010 when the former corporal decided to risk his life and engage machine guns, killing several insurgents.

Seventy-six insurgents were killed, which Mr Roberts-Smith described as "extremely significant" in the context of the Afghanistan conflict.

"Everybody fought with bravery, everybody fought with gallantry," he said.

He choked back tears when recalling that one of the killed insurgents was aged about 15, adding that was part of the battle that he struggled with despite it falling within the rules of engagement.

Barrister Bruce McClintock is representing Ben Roberts-Smith.
Barrister Bruce McClintock is representing Ben Roberts-Smith.
AAP

He rejected details of the battle given by another SAS soldier, codenamed person seven, whose account queried the heaviness of machine gunfire at Tizak.

"On the day he wasn't there, he didn't see it."

Mr Roberts-Smith later said of person seven: "He could not get over the fact I had a Victoria Cross".

The court was told the award of the VC to Mr Roberts-Smith changed the attitude of some fellow troopers towards him and became his "cross to bear".

"It put a target on my back," he told the court.

He said the award made him a "tall poppy" and "broadened" attacks on him from other soldiers who wanted to undermine him out of "pure spite".

"You take it on the chin and you keep moving forward," he said.

The court heard on a 2012 deployment other soldiers "white-anted" the war hero including by writing "childish things" on a board to stir resentment such as: "RS just trying to get another medal".

In his evidence Mr Roberts-Smith also denied saying in Afghanistan that he wanted to choke someone and watch the life "drain out" of his eyes.

"That is not how I speak," he said.

Mr Roberts-Smith has previously labelled the claims against him as devastating, saying he spent his life fighting for his country and did everything he could to act on the field of battle with honour.

The former SAS corporal has at the trial denied that he killed a captured Afghan insurgent, bullied another SAS soldier, or punched and kneed a detained Afghan male.

He has also disputed assertions he drank from the prosthetic leg of a killed insurgent, but has said he doesn't have a problem with "gallows humour" as a way to desensitise from horrors of combat.

The judge-alone trial, set to run for 10 weeks, is expected to hear testimony from 21 current and former SAS members as well as a number Afghan villagers.

Mr Roberts-Smith's evidence is expected to move to closed court later on Friday.

The trial continues before Justice Anthony Besanko.

Stay up to date with SBS NEWS

  • App
  • Subscribe
  • Follow
  • Listen
  • Watch