Ben Roberts-Smith changes evidence about Afghan killing

Ben Roberts-Smith has corrected evidence he gave on Thursday as he continued his cross-examination.

Ben Roberts-Smith has corrected evidence he gave on Thursday as he continued his cross-examination. Photo: AAP

Victoria Cross winner Ben Roberts-Smith has denied talking to anyone overnight about his evidence at his high-profile defamation action against newspapers over accusations of war crimes in Afghanistan.

Mr Roberts-Smith, 42, is suing the publishers of The Sydney Morning Herald, The Age and The Canberra Times in the Federal Court over reports from 2018 critical of his military deployments in Afghanistan, where he did six tours from 2006 to 2012.

He says the articles paint him as a war criminal who broke the moral and legal rules of military engagement.

On Friday morning, the war hero, under cross-examination, corrected evidence given on Thursday related to an SAS assault in April 2009 on Taliban compound Whiskey 108, located in Uruzgan province.

Mr Roberts-Smith said he was incorrect telling the court previously that a killed enemy insurgent was dragged back to the compound by another SAS operator.

“My recollection is not that he dragged a body back,” he told the court.

“It was a mistake yesterday in my evidence.”

Asked by the respondents’ barrister, Nicholas Owens SC, whether he talked to anyone overnight about his evidence Mr Roberts-Smith replied: “I did not”.

“Was that truthful evidence?” Mr Owens asked the witness.

“Yes,” Mr Roberts-Smith replied.

The court heard that the witness, after having completed six deployments in Afghanistan and the incident occurring over a decade ago, could not recall whether the body was moved .

The trial has previously been told that “clearing” bodies was “the drill” in  Afghanistan.

It has previously heard evidence that at the SAS operation on Whiskey 108 Mr Roberts-Smith killed a separate enemy insurgent with a prosthetic leg, who was armed with a bolt action rifle.

On Friday, the court heard there was nothing odd about two insurgents appearing at the “exact moment” Mr Roberts-Smith walked outside the compound.

“No, not in that battle,” Mr Roberts-Smith said.

“Were those two insurgents just unlucky?” Mr Owens asked.

“I don’t understand your question sorry,” the former soldier replied.

Mr Roberts-Smith’s legal team has previously argued at the trial that the man with the fake leg was not a “defenceless” Afghan, but was in fact an armed fighting age male.

The war hero denies all the claims against him, while the media outlets are running a truth defence.

The court also heard that on another mission, in 2012, both Mr Roberts-Smith and former SAS officer and current Liberal MP Andrew Hastie were present.

It was told that Mr Hastie was an incoming troop commander at the time of the mission.

“I do agree that he came on the mission,” Mr Roberts-Smith said.

Mr Hastie is expected to appear at the trial as a witness for the respondents, according to court documents filed on Thursday.

The trial continues before Justice Anthony Besanko.


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