War hero sues over ‘catalogue of lies’
WITH his wife by his side, Victoria Cross winner Ben Roberts-Smith has given his first detailed response to a series of anonymous allegations against him.
He said the truth about what happened during a battle in Afghanistan and a Parliament House dinner in Canberra was far different from what was published in Fairfax Media newspapers yesterday.
“My family and I sit here and wonder, what’s next?” Australia’s most decorated soldier told The Weekend Australian.
“What’s the next lie that’s going to run in the paper? I’m not a politician, I’m not famous. I went and fought for my country, and I’m being attacked because I fought for my country and I got a medal. I just don’t understand how I today am sitting here in this position. I really don’t.”
The 39-year-old former Special Air Services soldier from WA emphatically denied a Fairfax report on Friday that alleged he’d had an extramarital affair with a woman and that he’d been violent to her after a function at Canberra’s Parliament House.
“I have not at any stage been interviewed by police about any purported complaint by any woman,” Mr Roberts-Smith said. He said the Fairfax reports were “a catalogue of lies, fabrications and misrepresentations”.
He has lodged a defamation action in the Federal Court in Sydney against Fairfax Media.
Mr Roberts-Smith explained he was separated from his wife Emma at the time of the alleged incident.
He said that while he was summoning a car after the Canberra function, the woman, who he said was heavily intoxicated, fell down a flight of stairs.
“When I got there, there were two Federal police officers; they were basically holding her up. She had a huge lump on the top of her head and what appeared to be a scrape on the top of her eye and she said she had a sore hip.
“But she was very intoxicated to the point of being incoherent, so they were literally holding her up.”
Mr Roberts-Smith said his wife knew about the relationship. They were now back together.
“The fact that I have to explain why my wife and I decided to have a break in our relationship, it’s a bit harsh,” he said.
The war hero also denied any wrongdoing on the battlefield. He said he was yet to be interviewed by the Inspector-General of the Australian Defence Force, who is conducting an inquiry into alleged war crimes in Afghanistan.
Mr Roberts-Smith spoke about an incident in 2006 in which an Afghan spotter was shot dead. There have been suggestions the man was a shepherd and not a Taliban scout.
“Let’s say he might have been a shepherd,” Mr Roberts-Smith told The Weekend Australian. “There was no sheep up there. It’s hard to be a shepherd if there’s no sheep. The guy was a spotter. He was engaged and when he was engaged there was some kind of ordnance that he was carrying, whether it was a flare, a smoke grenade and RPG booster — whatever it was, that detonated. That essentially confirmed he was a spotter.”
Mr Roberts-Smith also denied claims he had assaulted Afghan detainees as a “fabrication”. He believes a small group of disgruntled SAS troopers are smearing him to the media as part of a “hatchet job”.
“If and when I am given the opportunity to defend each specific allegation, I am very confident that direct witnesses will categorically demonstrate the falsity of them all,” he said in a statement on Friday.
Veterans Affairs Minister Darren Chester called for calm yesterday.
Mr Chester said evidence was still being gathered for the investigation by the Australian Defence Force, with a report expected in the coming months.
“Having a trial by media, as it were, would be unfortunate,” Mr Chester said.
Brendan Nelson, director of the Australian War Memorial, said it appeared that “sections of the Australian media have been running a campaign against Special Forces generally and Ben Roberts-Smith specifically over the last few months”.
“Australians need to understand that we have amongst us a small number of heroes,” Dr Nelson said.
“Ben Roberts-Smith is one of them. He fought for our country. He was awarded the Victoria Cross and the Medal of Gallantry. It’s a miracle the man is not dead. There are Australian soldiers home tonight with their families because of his courage.
“This man is a hero and our nation needs to believe in our heroes unless there is absolutely incontrovertible evidence to the alternative.”
Standing firm: Afghanistan veteran Ben Roberts-Smith with his wife Emma Picture: Lyndon Mechielsen/The Australian