Justice Wigney has handed down his judgement in the long-running defamation case brought by actor Geoffrey Rush.
The justice found that The Daily Telegraph defamed Rush when it published a story by journalist Jonathan Moran that conveyed that he had sexually harassed a fellow cast member in a performance of King Lear at the Sydney Theatre Company.
Wigney found that the newspaper had imputed that Rush was a sexual predator, inappropriately touched a cast member, is a “pervert” and that the theatre company involved would not work with him again.
The newspaper failed to establish the truth defence it ran in relation to any of the four imputations.
— Michaela Whitbourn (@MWhitbourn) April 11, 2019
Actress had testified that Rush harassed her
During the lengthy proceedings, actress Eryn Jean Norvill had alleged Rush had acted inappropriately towards her during the production. Another cast member, Mark Leonard Winter, corroborated her claims.
Wigney did not consider their evidence credible, however and was “not satisfied on the balance of probabilities” that the sexual harassment alleged by counsel for Nationwide News (the publisher of The Daily Telegraph) had taken place.
The articles had not originally named Norvill. She was initially reluctant to be involved in the proceedings but testified that Rush had “inappropriately touched” her on a number of occasions, including on stage.
While playing her father in the play, Rush was “stroking, gesturing up and down my torso (and) groping above my breasts … raising his eyebrows, bulging his eyes, smiling, licking his lips,” Norvill told the court.
Wigney noted the actress had been dragged into the legal proceedings against her will but also asserted that she was “prone to exaggeration and embellishment” in some of her statements, including her assertion that some other cast and crew members were complicit in the harassment because they did not intervene.
The judge also said that he found Norvill’s account of the alleged harassment was inconsistent with more contemporaneous statements she made about working with Rush.
— Hollywood Reporter (@THR) April 11, 2019
The actor will receive damages after satisfying the court the newspaper defamed him
Justice Wigney awarded Rush A$850,000 in compensatory and aggravated damages after finding Nationwide News, the publisher of The Daily Telegraph had defamed him. Further damages will be added to this amount for the economic loss the judge believed Rush suffered.
The parties will return to court on 10 May for this next stage of the trial to be heard.
“This was, in all the circumstances, a recklessly irresponsible piece of sensational journalism of the worst kind. The very worst kind.” the judge said.
The 67-year-old Rush had said the allegations against him had ruined his career and health and caused distress to his family.
Much of the coverage of the trial had linked the proceedings to the broader #MeToo movement.
Some lawyers have commented that the trial was likely to have a chilling effect on the reporting of sexual harassment allegations. Sydney media lawyer Michael Bradley had commented that “there were a lot of stories being prepared in various media organisations ready to run that got killed” when the Rush trial went ahead.
Aggravated damages for Rush .. for sensational and reckless treatment of story by @dailytelegraph 'A recklessly irresponsible piece of sensationalist journalism of the worst kind'.
— Paul Barry (@TheRealPBarry) April 11, 2019
Paul Barry: The Daily Telegraph‘s behaviour was “scandalous”
Veteran media commentator and Media Watch host Paul Barry told ABC News that the newspaper’s decision to publish the allegations was “absolutely staggering”. He said they went to print only 36 hours after approaching the theatre company with the allegation.
“I find it absolutely staggering that you can do that with a case of this importance. They do not go to Rush until 12 hours before the paper hit the streets and two or three hours before the press to roll. That is absolutely scandalous behaviour,” he said.
The newspaper did not talk to Norvill for the story.
Another actress, Yael Stone, had accused Rush of sexually harassing by dancing naked in front of her and watching her shower during a different theatre production. Rush issued a statement in response saying “I sincerely and deeply regret if I have caused her any distress,” but those allegations were not part of the proceedings.