Eryn Jean Norvill’s testimony of sexual harassment by Geoffrey Rush was “rife with contradictions, inconsistencies and recent invention”, a court has heard.
It has to be considered against “a sea of absent witnesses” and the contradictory evidence of fellow actors Robyn Nevin, Helen Buday and Mark Leonard Winter, according to Rush’s barrister Sue Chrysanthou.
Ms Chrysanthou was giving final submissions in the Federal Court on Thursday as Rush sues The Daily Telegraph‘s publisher Nationwide News and journalist Jonathon Moran for defamation over two articles and a newsagent poster published in 2017.
They related to an allegation he behaved inappropriately toward a co-star – later revealed to be Norvill – during a Sydney Theatre Company production of King Lear in 2015 and 2016.
Rush denies the allegation and says the Telegraph portrayed him as a pervert and sexual predator.
Nationwide News denies the newspaper conveyed those imputations about Rush, but is arguing they are substantially true after Norvill – who didn’t participate in the articles – agreed to testify.
Some of her allegations to the court were that Rush made groping gestures and sexual innuendo toward her in rehearsals, that he stroked her lower back backstage and deliberately touched her breast as he grieved over her character’s dead body during a performance.
Ms Chrysanthou took issue with a suggestion by the Telegraph‘s barrister, Tom Blackburn SC, that the case was essentially a contest between the evidence of Rush and Norvill.
She suggested the outcome of the judge-alone trial would be determined by considering Norvill’s evidence against contemporaneous documents, the evidence of other witnesses and her own testimony.
“Similarly, her evidence has to be considered against the sea of absent witnesses – and there’s a lot of them,” Ms Chrysanthou said.
Norvill repeatedly denied lying when she was in the witness box and Mr Blackburn has told Justice Michael Wigney she had no motive to.
He said Norvill had never wanted Rush to know about her informal complaint to the STC or for it to go public, and she’d been impressive and brave in the witness box.
But Ms Chrysanthou on Thursday said the judge didn’t need to wonder why she would lie.
“What could possibly be her motive to lie? Who cares! That’s not Your Honour’s job,” she said.
She said Winter, a King Lear actor who gave evidence in the Telegraph‘s case, gave an account of Rush’s alleged on-stage breast touch that contradicted Norvill’s.
“If it had occurred as she described, members of the cast and crew would have seen it, the audience would have seen it,” Ms Chrysanthou said.
Rush’s other lawyer, Bruce McClintock SC, said the Telegraph‘s articles had a destructive and appalling effect on the star actor.
“This is the most irresponsibly reckless journalism, I suggest, that has come before the court,” he said.
The trial continues.