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Emotional ex-SAS witness disputes how Roberts-Smith won bravery award

A former SAS soldier who faced down brutal enemy fire alongside Ben Roberts-Smith resulting in his prestigious Victoria Cross says the medal became politicised for a “good news story”.

Mar 02, 2022, updated Mar 02, 2022
Ben Roberts-Smith sued hree former Fairfax newspapers over articles he says defamed him in suggesting he committed war crimes in Afghanistan between 2009 and 2012.  He's now facing the trial costs. (AAP Image/Bianca De Marchi)

Ben Roberts-Smith sued hree former Fairfax newspapers over articles he says defamed him in suggesting he committed war crimes in Afghanistan between 2009 and 2012. He's now facing the trial costs. (AAP Image/Bianca De Marchi)

The witness codenamed Person Four told the Federal Court on Wednesday the “highlight of my professional career” was the 2010 Battle of Tizak in Afghanistan.

Mr Roberts-Smith, 43, is suing The Age, The Sydney Morning Herald and The Canberra Times for defamation over reports that he committed war crimes and murders in Afghanistan between 2006 and 2012.

One of a handful of Australian recipients of the Victoria Cross since 1970, he has suggested some claims stem from jealous associates spiteful of the achievements which resulted in his medals.

Person Four recalled the war veteran’s face looking “ashen” during the raid, and the “absolute feeling of dread and fear” due to the heavy, accurate and sustained fire the troop was under immediately after helicopter insertion.

The two comrades decided they would “fight forward” and in concert began “mutually supporting each other enabling us to close with the enemy,” he said.

Under rapid-fire from two machine guns, the pair advanced while the former SAS sergeant indicated a window near their target to Roberts-Smith, he said.

The retired SAS corporal made a “bold move” to clear the window and confirmed “one enemy dead”, while the witness exposed himself to provide security, he said.

Soon after Person Four says he again exposed himself to provide “sustained and accurate cover for Ben” while he threw a grenade over a wall, that never exploded, he said.

Person Four “100 per cent believed” at this moment he successfully killed one of the machine gunners, something he says the decorated soldier later confirmed.

Person Four became emotional on his third day in the witness box, saying the moment stood out “because I didn’t let him down”.

“And that we both supported each other. And that we overcame overwhelming odds together.”

He explained the “gravity” of facing machine-gun power meant a standard infantry would “throw 30 people at it,” and “100 people” at more than one such heavy weapon.

“There was only two of us on that day, plus Person 32 … to overcome those odds … is why that action is so poignant for me.”

According to the official government statement, Roberts-Smith killed both machine gunners and was awarded the VC in 2011.

Person Four said initially he was told that he would be receiving the medallic honour, but three days later “it changed”.

“I was upset something as outstanding as what both Ben and myself did was politicised.

“They could have accepted the fact that both of us did as much as each other that day.”

While Person Four does believe Roberts-Smith deserved the award, he suspects other factors played upon “the government and heads of defence”.

“2010 (was) the most violent year in the period in Afghanistan, we lost a lot of people and they wanted a good news story.

“I believe people jumped on, or seized the opportunity for their own benefits.”

Person Four suspected both soldiers’ accounts were too similar, and it created a problem due to medal restrictions, and he was given one for gallantry in 2013.

Under cross-examination he agreed it caused him hurt, disappointment and was something he ruminated over.

The trial continues.

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