Tensions have boiled over in the Ben Roberts-Smith trial after his former SAS squadmate turned accused said he was “manipulated”.
An SAS soldier, who testified Ben Roberts-Smith kicked an unarmed Afghan off a cliff, says he was “manipulated” by Mr Roberts-Smith’s enemies under questioning so heated the judge intervened.
Mr Roberts-Smith is suing Nine and its journalists over allegations he was involved in the unlawful killing of six unarmed Afghans while deployed.
Among Nine’s allegations against Mr Roberts-Smith is that he kicked a handcuffed shepherd down a cliff before another soldier executed the injured Afghan.
He denies every allegation – Nine maintains they are true.
A decorated SAS soldier known as Person 4 told the court, this week, he witnessed Mr Roberts-Smith kick Mr Jan in the chest during the Darwan raid.
Person 4 claimed he helped drag Mr Jan across a dry creek bed and was standing just meters away as another SAS soldier, Person 11, shot Mr Jan dead in front of Mr Roberts-Smith.
Back at the SAS base, Person 4 told the Federal Court on Thursday, he watched Mr Roberts-Smith tell a group of soldiers “I kicked that c*** off the cliff”.
“What you told the court is a fantasy by you,” Mr Roberts-Smith’s barrister Arthur Moses SC said to Person 4.
“That’s not correct,” the soldier responded.
Mr Roberts-Smith has told the court other soldiers within the ranks of the SAS regiment wanted to bring him down – partly because he had been awarded Australia’s top military honor for his actions in the 2011 battle of Tizak.
Person 4 told the court he fought alongside Mr Roberts-Smith in the crucial moments of the battle of Tizak overcoming the overwhelming odds pitted against the SAS by two Taliban machine guns.
Mr Roberts-Smith, in his Victoria Cross citation, is credited with killing both gunners but Person 4 claims he felled one gunner with rifle fire.
Despite Person 4’s bravery during Tizak, the court has heard, he did not get a Victoria Cross – it took two years for him to be awarded the Medal For Gallantry for his actions at Tizak and that upset him greatly.
“The regiment doesn’t deserve lies and cowardice and, Your Honor, I’m not a liar or a coward,” Person 4 told Justice Anthony Besanko on Thursday.
Mr Moses asked Person 4 if he was suggesting Mr Roberts-Smith was a liar or a coward.
“Absolutely not, I’ve seen that individual perform heroic feats on the battlefield,” Person 4 said.
Person 4 told the court he had a conversation with one of Mr Roberts-Smith’s known enemies within the SAS, a soldier known as Person 7, about the “cliff kick” at Darwan.
Mr Moses suggested Person 7 used Person 4’s “bitterness” about the Victoria Cross snub to extract damaging allegations about Mr Roberts-Smith.
“You were used by Person 7 to tell a story about Darwan so he could bring Mr Roberts-Smith down,” Mr Moses suggested.
“I’ve suspected that,” Person 4 replied, agreeing he “ruminated” on the issue.
“(Person 7) put you in that position?” Mr Moses asked Person 4, his voice rising.
“I believe so.”
Justice Besanko stopped the cross examination – telling Mr Moses he had the power to reject questions that were disrespectful or belittling in tone.
“Do you have a suspicion that Person 7 told the media about the story (about the cliff kick) you told him in 2016?” Mr Moses asked.
“I have a suspicion,” Person 4 said.
Person 4 was the best man at Person 11’s wedding but the two soldiers haven’t spoken since 2018 because, Person 4 believes, he accused Person 11 of murdering the shepherd.
It was in December 2018 that Person 4 met with Mr Roberts-Smith at a restaurant in Brisbane to discuss a scholarship offered to former soldiers.
Person 4 said the conversation, about entrees and a bottle of wine, became emotional and delved into why the two decorated soldiers had grown apart.
Mr Roberts-Smith said he “understood” why Person 4 was upset, Mr Moses suggested, but Person 4 could not recall.
He could also not recall whether he told Mr Roberts-Smith he had “said things you shouldn’t have” to Person 7.
“Do you recall Mr Roberts-Smith said to you individuals had been using your upset about the awards to attack him and they didn’t really care about you?” Mr Moses said.
“I don’t recall but that’s exactly how I felt…I believe I’ve been manipulated,” Person 4 replied.
“You said to him you wished it hadn’t happened?” Mr Moses asked.
“Correct,” the soldier replied.
The trial continues.
Originally published as Tensions boil in Ben Roberts-Smith trial as soldier says he was ‘manipulated’