Actor Geoffrey Rush has been successful in his defamation lawsuit against News Corp.’s Sydney tabloid The Daily Telegraph, after Australian Federal Court Justice Michael Wigney said Thursday that the Telegraph had not proved its truth defense.
In a lengthy judgement, Justice Wigney said that the Telegraph had engaged in a “recklessly irresponsible piece of sensational journalism of the worst kind” in publishing articles in 2017 that claimed Rush had engaged in inappropriate behavior while in rehearsals and onstage in a Sydney Theatre Company production of King Lear in 2015 and 2016.
He also found that Rush’s accuser, actress Eryn Jean Norvill, was not a “credible or reliable” witness and was “prone to exaggeration and embellishment.”
Rush was awarded a minimum of $609,000 (AUS$850,000) in compensation and aggravated damages, with the judge to determine further damages and costs by May 10.
Justice Wigney said the allegation had been “devastating” for Rush and found he’d suffered significant financial loss.
News Corp. had previously said it would appeal against having to pay aggravated damages.
Outside the court, Rush told reporters there were “no winners in this case. It was extremely distressing for everyone involved.” He would make no further comment, he said.
In a trial that lasted 13 days in late 2018, Rush’s legal team said the newspaper had implied he is a “pervert,” a “sexual predator” and that he “committed sexual assault.” Those imputations were central to the judge’s decision, with Rush able to prove these implications were conveyed by the articles, but were not true.
In his judgement, Justice Wigney introduced his findings saying the case, which had evolved against the backdrop of the #MeToo movement, was “sad and unfortunate.” Justice Wigney said that he was not satisfied the events occurred “as alleged.”
Rush at the time strongly denied any wrongdoing and described the allegations as “slurs” and “hyperbole.”
He said, “The Daily Telegraph has made false, pejorative and demeaning claims, splattering them with unrelenting bombasity on its front pages.”
During the trial, Norvill alleged that Rush made “groping gestures in the air with two cupped hands” that simulated “fondling” her breasts during rehearsals.
“He was stroking, gesturing up and down my torso [and] groping above my breasts … and kind of raising his eyebrows, bulging his eyes, smiling, licking his lips,” she said.
“The weight of the evidence was solidly against the occurance of these incidents,” Justice Wigney said.
Rush is seeking damages of up to $20 million, which would be the highest ever defamation payout in Australia.
April 10, 10:35 p.m. Updated to include details of the financial damages awarded and Rush’s reaction.