Lauded Australian actor Geoffrey Rush has won his defamation lawsuit against News Corp paper The Daily Telegraph, after the Federal Court ruled the publication was incorrect in articles alleging he acted inappropriately towards his King Lear co-star Eryn Jean Norvill.
Justice Michael Wigney this afternoon said he found the articles conveyed defamatory imputations that Rush was a “pervert, a sexual predator “ and liable for “inappropriate behaviour of a sexual nature”, and that those imputations were not proven in court.
“The weight of the evidence was solidly against the occurrence of these incidents,” Wigney said.
Justice Wigney found Nationwide News, the publisher of the paper, had released a “recklessly irresponsible piece of sensationalist journalism of the worst kind. The very worst kind.”
He awarded Rush damages and aggravated damages of $850,000. Special economic losses, pertaining to the amount of money Rush could reasonably expect to have lost out on due to the impact of the defamatory claims, are yet to be determined.
The paper had published an article with the headline ‘King Leer’, alleging the Sydney Theatre Company received an anonymous complaint dating to its 2015-2016 run of King Lear describing inappropriate conduct on his behalf.
Rush sued, claiming the report had unfairly damaged his reputation. News Corp moved forward with a truth defence against the lawsuit, which would have absolved the company of wrongdoing if it proved its reporting was accurate.
Norvill was not named in the initial story and had not given permission to be named in the initial Daily Telegraph report, but agreed last year to testify in the case. She outlined further allegations of misconduct against Rush, who played her father in the production.
Before court, she alleged that in one instance Rush “had both of his hands above my torso and he was gesturing, stroking up and down my torso gesturing, groping and cupping of my breast.”
She said the incident left her feeling “belittled, embarrassed and, I guess, shamed.”
The court also heard allegations that Rush put her hand up Norvill’s shirt on separate occasions, and that Norvill’s colleagues in the production were somewhat “complicit” in allowing his behaviour.
One cast member, Mark Leonard Winter, did tell the court he saw Rush place his hand on Norvill’s breast – which was not an action seen during the stage performance.
Justice Wigney said he was not convinced, on the balance of probabilities, that the incidents occurred as described in the evidence.
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