Roberts-Smith punched soldier who acted ‘jovial’ after bungled mission, court told

A former elite soldier supporting Ben Roberts-Smith in his Federal Court defamation case has given evidence that the war veteran punched a comrade who acted “jovial” after a bungled mission in Afghanistan.

Roberts-Smith has admitted punching the soldier, dubbed Person 10, after the mission on July 15, 2012, during which Person 10 has said he inadvertently fired shots near a woman and child. Nobody was injured in the incident, the court has heard.

Ben Roberts-Smith outside the Federal Court in Sydney earlier this week.Credit:Oscar Colman

Roberts-Smith rejects an allegation that punching Person 10 amounted to bullying, and is suing The Age, The Sydney Morning Herald and The Canberra Times for defamation over a series of articles in 2018 that he says accuse him of bullying fellow soldiers and the unlawful killing of Afghan prisoners. The media outlets are seeking to rely on a defence of truth.

A friend of Roberts-Smith, a former Special Air Service soldier known as Person 22, gave evidence on Friday that he was on the mission with Roberts-Smith and Person 10 in 2012.

Person 22 said Person 10 started shooting at one stage, but it was unclear “what he was shooting at”. He said Person 10 did not respond to requests for information about his target.

Person 10 told the court this year that shots were fired in the direction of his patrol, he perceived a threat and he “did not fire willingly at a woman and child”. He said a separate accusation that he fired at a “friendly call sign”, meaning other SAS troops, was false.

Roberts-Smith told the court last year that Person 10 “giggled” during a subsequent patrol debrief, and he punched him to underscore the gravity of the incident. Person 10 has denied giggling.

On Friday, Person 22 told the court that Person 10 was not laughing or giggling before Roberts-Smith punched him, but was “jovial” and “not grasping the situation”. He said Roberts-Smith had previously asked Person 10 if he had fired at a friendly patrol or women and children.

One of Roberts-Smith’s barristers, Bruce McClintock, SC, said last year that his client punched Person 10 and “he should not have done so” but the court should find it was “not bullying in that situation”.

But Person 10 said this year: “I’d say … punching someone in the face, berating them in front of their patrol, could be a form of bullying.”

The trial continues.

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