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SAS witness tells Ben Roberts-Smith defamation trial he has doubts about bravery

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An SAS witness has told a high-stakes defamation trial he has “doubts” about Ben Roberts-Smith’s bravery medals.

An SAS soldier has told a court he has “doubts” about Ben Roberts-Smith’s bravery medals, despite not being on the mission which saw Mr Roberts-Smith awarded the highly coveted Victoria Cross.

Mr Roberts-Smith is suing Nine newspapers claiming they falsely accused him of war crime killings in Afghanistan and domestic violence against his “mistress”.

Nine stands by the stories, saying the allegations are true, and opened its case against Mr Roberts-Smith by calling SAS soldiers to testify against him in the Federal Court.

One witness, known only as Person 14, has told the court he saw an unidentified Australian soldier machine gun a captive Afghan in the back during a raid in 2009.

Person 14, on Tuesday, told the court he later saw Mr Roberts-Smith carrying the distinctive Para Minimi machine gun at the end of the mission.

Nine alleges Mr Roberts-Smith shot the man dead with an extended burst from the Minimi.

Mr Roberts-Smith denies that, and told the court that the Taliban insurgent was carrying a rifle and moving quickly when he lawfully gunned him down.

Person 14, one year later, was prevented from deploying with the SAS because he lost a hard drive containing photographs of his time in Afghanistan.

He told the court, this week, that his ex-wife had broken into his home, stolen the hard drive and attempted to blackmail him for $50,000 or she would release the images to the press.

It was during that 2010 deployment that Mr Roberts-Smith was awarded the Victoria Cross after the battle of Tizak.

The SAS were pinned down by heavy machine guns, official Australian Defence Force records state, and Mr Roberts-Smith advanced on his own, storming the gunners.

Mr Roberts-Smith “exposed his own position to draw fire away from his patrol”, the commendation reads.

Mr Roberts-Smith, last year, told the court he rushed the machine gun nest willing to die because he knew he “had done the right thing” by the other Australian soldiers and “my family could live without me, knowing I still had my honour.”

He told the court the Victoria Cross was for his whole patrol and everyone had fought for their lives during Tizak – but the top military commendation had painted a target on his back.

Person 14, on Tuesday, said he had doubts over the Victoria Cross citation but didn’t doubt Mr Roberts-Smith risked his life at Tizak.

“I have my doubts over the citation,” he said.

“We visited Tizak in 2012, although I wasn‘t there in 2010 to fully understand the battle, I did receive a battlefield tour off Mr Roberts-Smith.”

Me Roberts-Smith’s barrister Arthur Moses SC asked Person 14 if he “resented” Mr Roberts-Smith being recognised for bravery because he was held back from that tour of duty.

Person 14 denied that and said he never expressed his doubts until speaking with Nine’s lawyers in 2018.

The SAS witness told the court other soldiers had similarly felt “disappointed” or “doubted” parts of Mr Roberts-Smith’s distinguished military career.

That included when Mr Roberts-Smith was recognised with the Commendation for Distinguished Service for his actions in 2012.

Mr Moses, on Tuesday, asked Person 14 if he was in any position to comment on Mr Roberts-Smith’s bravery during 2012 when he led a recon mission deep into an enemy stronghold.

Person 14 said he was in no position to pass judgment on whether Mr Roberts-Smith had shown bravery or had come under rocket and gun fire during the mission.

But, Person 14 said, his troupe commander Person 6 had raised his doubts about the commendation and was “disappointed” when they were handed down.

“He said it was bullshit,” Person 14 told the court.

Later Mr Moses suggested Person 14 had come to court to “throw Mr Roberts-Smith under the bus, any way you can,”.

Person 14 denied that was his goal.

The trial continues.

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