The head of the Australian Special Air Service Regiment Association has brushed off any suggestion Ben Roberts-Smith should hand back his Victoria Cross after losing his marathon defamation case.
Martin Hamilton-Smith played down the outcome of Thursday’s Federal Court ruling when he was asked if Australia’s most decorated living soldier should return his most coveted award.
Mr Roberts-Smith’s landmark case against The Age, The Sydney Morning Herald and The Canberra Times was dismissed by Justice Anthony Besanko after he found their articles proved the former SAS soldier was a war criminal, murderer and bully.
But Mr Hamilton-Smith, a former South Australian politician and SAS soldier, said the allegations needed to be taken before the criminal justice system to get to the truth and before Mr Roberts-Smith VC could be called into question.
“I think the only way you will get the real truth of this is to get it into the criminal court, where both sides of the story can be told and beyond reasonable doubt the facts established,” he told ABC TV.
“I don’t think the judgment gives us anything other than resolving the defamation case.”
Mr Hamilton-Smith called on the government agency probing alleged war crimes by Australian soldiers in Afghanistan – which has been carrying out its investigation at the same time as Mr Roberts-Smith’s trial – to complete its work as soon as possible.
“Justice delayed is Justice denied, so I would encourage the Office of the Special investigator to get on with its job,” he said.
Mr Roberts-Smith’s Victoria Cross is in doubt anyway, given he had surrendered his prized medal to his employer, Channel 7 owner Kerry Stokes, as collateral for the massive loan he gave him to fund his defamation battle.
The next question the court will seek to resolve in Mr Roberts-Smith’s legal saga is the matter of who will foot the substantial bill – reportedly estimated to be worth more than $35m.
Mr Roberts-Smith, who was photographed relaxing poolside at a villa in Bali on Wednesday, did not front the Federal Court to hear the conclusion of his complex and lengthy case. He has always denied any wrongdoing.
Twelve years ago, the former SAS corporal became the most highly decorated member of the Australian Defence Force when he was awarded the Victoria Cross for “conspicuous gallantry and daring” in leading an attack in Afghanistan.
On Thursday, the Federal Court found the most serious imputations alleged in the 2018 Nine newspaper articles about Mr Roberts-Smith had been proven.
These include that Mr Roberts-Smith kicked a detained Afghan shepherd off a cliff while handcuffed before ordering a subordinate Australian soldier to fatally shoot the man, as well as shooting another man in the back with a machine gun.
Professor Ben Saul, the Challis Chair of International Law at University of Sydney, wrote on Twitter after the verdict that “subject to any appeal, it would now be appropriate for Ben Roberts-Smith to be (1) stripped of his Victoria Cross and (2) removed from his dedicated display at the Australian War Memorial”.
Greens justice spokesman David Shoebridge backed Professor Saul’s position on the War Memorial Display, adding it was time for the federal government to start “telling the truth about Australia’s war record in Afghanistan”.
“If this judgment stands, the first step in correcting the official record is for the Australian War Memorial to immediately remove Ben Roberts-Smith’s uniform from public display and to begin telling the entire truth of Australia’s involvement in that brutal war,” he wrote on Twitter.
Mr Roberts-Smith’s uniform is on display in the museum at the War Memorial in Canberra, next to a plaque highlighting his achievements in Afghanistan as part of an exhibition dedicated to Australia’s Victoria Cross recipients.
The Department of Defence declined to comment on Thursday’s Federal Court ruling and would not answer questions about Mr Roberts-Smith’s Victoria Cross.
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