Well-known Melbourne identity Mick Gatto has lost a defamation lawsuit against the ABC, with Victoria’s Supreme Court dismissing a claim for compensation.
Mr Gatto launched legal action against the public broadcaster in 2019, after he was the subject of an article relating to Melbourne’s Lawyer X scandal.
Mr Gatto claimed the article made him out to be a “murderer” and “one of Australia’s most violent criminals” – submissions which were rejected by the Supreme Court’s Justice Andrew Keogh.
Justice Keogh ruled the meanings claimed by Mr Gatto were not made out, finding it was “neither necessary nor appropriate” to consider awarding damages.
The story in question, written by Sarah Farnsworth and former ABC reporter Nino Bucci, was published in February 2019 and remains on the public broadcaster’s website.
Police witness implicated Gatto in alleged threats
The article was based on a document which outlined police claims about the risks to Nicola Gobbo if her identity was uncovered, namely a secret police affidavit which contained evidence from Inspector Brooke Hall.
In the 2016 court document, Inspector Hall made a statement that Informer 3838 – now known to be gangland lawyer-turned-police-informer Ms Gobbo – would “almost certainly” be murdered if her former clients were told she had been speaking with police while acting as their lawyer, and that Mick Gatto, Horty Mokbel – the brother of Tony Mokbel – and others had threatened her.
“That group specifically stated that if  were found to be a human source then [she] would be killed,” Inspector Hall’s evidence read.
The affidavit was from a court case brought by Victoria Police to prevent Ms Gobbo’s identity from being revealed.
Throughout the trial, Mr Gatto, 64, told the court the article had gone too far and damaged his and his children’s reputation.
“They crossed the line by calling me a murderer, a hit man and one of the most violent men in Australia,” Mr Gatto said.
“There’s nothing further from the truth.”
Gatto a figure of ‘public interest’, judge says
Justice Keogh said Mr Gatto was a “newsworthy and a legitimate subject of public interest”.
“The ABC were entitled to devote the report to those parts of the proceedings that concerned Mr Gatto, provided that in doing so the article was not so tendentious or otherwise slanted as to render it a distorted report,” he wrote.
“Far from being distorted, the article was entirely accurate and correlated with what occurred in those parts of the Proceedings which were reported.”