Ge­of­frey Rush defama­tion trial: Eryn Jean Norvill 'ut­terly hon­est' wit­ness, court told

The Guardian Australia - - News - Michael McGowan

Eryn Jean Norvill was an “ut­terly hon­est” and “brave” wit­ness who had noth­ing to gain from giv­ing ev­i­dence against the ac­tor Ge­of­frey Rush ex­cept “stress and anx­i­ety”, a court has heard.

Af­ter two and a half weeks, clos­ing sub­mis­sions in the high-pro­file defama­tion trial between Rush and the Daily Tele­graph be­gan on Wed­nes­day.

The news­pa­per’s bar­ris­ter, Tom Black­burn SC, told the court Norvill – the ac­tor whose com­plaint about Rush is at the cen­tre of the case – had been an hon­est wit­ness who had “des­per­ately, des­per­ately wanted to stay out of the lime­light”.

But fed­eral court judge Michael Wigney has ques­tioned the rel­e­vance of a text mes­sage Rush sent to Norvill in which he told her he was think­ing about her “more than is so­cially ap­pro­pri­ate”.

Black­burn said the text mes­sage had been “an in­vi­ta­tion”. Rush, he said, had been “putting it out there to see if he got a re­sponse”.

But Wigney was scep­ti­cal of the rel­e­vance of the text.

“An in­vi­ta­tion to do what?” he asked Black­burn. “Are you se­ri­ously sug­gest­ing he’s ex­pect­ing to have some sort of af­fair with her? It just seems bizarre.

“I have to con­fess I strug­gle to see the sin­is­ter as­pect of this. Maybe it’s just me ... It’s not as if he says ‘Do you want to meet at a cafe to­mor­row night?’ or some other ren­dezvous.”

Rush is su­ing the Tele­graph over a se­ries of ar­ti­cles pub­lished in No­vem­ber and De­cem­ber in 2017 al­leg­ing he had be­haved in­ap­pro­pri­ately to­wards Norvill dur­ing a 2015 pro­duc­tion of Shake­speare’s King Lear.

One front-page story was head­lined “King Leer”, and fea­tured a por­trait of Rush in char­ac­ter.

Black­burn told Wigney that the case came down to “a con­test between the ev­i­dence of Mr Rush and Ms Norvill”.

Wigney would have to “make a choice” about who he be­lieved.

Over two days last week Norvill told the court that Rush had “de­lib­er­ately” touched her breast dur­ing a 2015 pro­duc­tion of King Lear, say­ing she felt “trapped” and “fright­ened” by the Os­car win­ner’s be­hav­iour.

She told the court that dur­ing re­hearsals for the play Rush made “grop­ing” and “hour-glass” ges­tures to­wards her, and that on two oc­ca­sions be­fore go­ing on stage Rush had put his hand un­der­neath her shirt “up to the line of her jeans” and “very softly and lightly” trac­ing the skin above the waist­band.

Rush vig­or­ously de­nied the al­le­ga­tions when the ar­ti­cles were pub­lished and again dur­ing the trial. He said he had never en­gaged in in­ap­pro­pri­ate be­hav­iour to­wards her.

Dur­ing Norvill’s cross-ex­am­i­na­tion Rush’s se­nior coun­sel, Bruce McClin­tock SC, ac­cused her of telling “a whole pack of dis­gust­ing lies” about Rush to “blacken and smear” his rep­u­ta­tion.

But Black­burn told the court Norvill had no rea­son to make up the al­le­ga­tions. “[There is] ab­so­lutely noth­ing in these pro­ceed­ings for Ms Norvill ex­cept stress and anx­i­ety, ex­ac­er­bated by the way Mr McClin­tock cross-ex­am­ined her and the ac­cu­sa­tions he made,” Black­burn said.

Norvill had made her ini­tial com­plaint to the Syd­ney The­atre Com­pany con­fi­den­tially, had asked for Rush not to be made aware of the com­plaint, and had not spo­ken to the Tele­graph be­fore the ar­ti­cles were pub­lished.

“None of that is the con­duct or ac­tions of some­body who has some sort of mo­tive to seek pub­lic­ity or any­thing else,” he said.

“This is sig­nif­i­cant, be­cause although my learned friend [made] a florid, ex­trav­a­gant ac­cu­sa­tion that her ev­i­dence was, quote, ‘a pack of dis­gust­ing lies’, [he] never went on to put to her … any rea­son why she should tell a pack of dis­gust­ing lies about Mr Rush.

“[It was] very brave of her to give ev­i­dence. There was noth­ing in it for her, ab­so­lutely noth­ing [ex­cept] to po­ten­tially of­fend se­nior mem­bers of Aus­tralia’s the­atre estab­lish­ment when she’s a young ac­tor mak­ing her way in Aus­tralian the­atre.”

The play’s direc­tor and two co-stars, Robyn Nevin and He­len Bu­day, gave ev­i­dence that they had not wit­nessed Rush en­gag­ing in in­ap­pro­pri­ate con­duct dur­ing the pro­duc­tion.

In his clos­ing, Black­burn paid par­tic­u­lar at­ten­tion to Nevin’s ev­i­dence, and her ex­pla­na­tion of text mes­sages she had sent to Norvill im­me­di­ately af­ter the ar­ti­cles were pub­lished.

The court pre­vi­ously heard ev­i­dence that Nevin sent a text to Norvill ask­ing about her well­be­ing on 1 De­cem­ber, shortly af­ter the first Tele­graph ar­ti­cle had been pub­lished.

“Oh dear girl are you OK? … It’s nasty. I hope you’ll be pro­tected. I’m sure you will be,” the text read.

Black­burn said Nevin’s ac­count of say­ing how she knew the com­plainant was Norvill de­spite her not be­ing named in the ar­ti­cles “doesn’t make sense”.

“Nowhere in that text ex­change did Ms Nevin say to Ms Norvill: ‘Why are you mak­ing up this [about] one of my very best and clos­est friends, a man on im­pec­ca­ble in­tegrity and rep­u­ta­tion?’ ... It just doesn’t make sense,” he said.

Pho­to­graph: Joel Car­rett/AAP

The fed­eral court hears that ac­tor Eryn Jean Norvill had noth­ing to gain from giv­ing ev­i­dence against Ge­of­frey Rush ex­cept ‘stress andanx­i­ety’.

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