The Daily Telegraph has had its bid for a cross-claim against the Sydney Theatre Company, which it lodged as part of its defamation defence against Geoffrey Rush, denied in court.
The actor is suing the paper’s publisher Nationwide News and its reporter Jonathon Moran for defamation, over articles alleging Rush acted inappropriately while performing in the STC’s 2015-2016 production of King Lear.
The trial before Justice Michael Wigney is due to commence later this year, but this month Nationwide News filed a cross-claim against the STC to allow it to have the theatre company’s help in paying damages if it loses the defamation case.
Justice Michael Wigney rejected the application, saying the cross-claim was “very weak and tenuous”, and the idea of suing a source was unusual.
Nationwide News argued that the STC provided three statements to its journalist confirming the allegations he put to them, which were then included in the newspaper’s reporting.
Justice Wigney said the media company’s use of its defence to frustrate Mr Rush’s right to resolve the case as quickly as possible was regrettable.
“It would not be unfair to say, in all the circumstances, that while Nationwide News and Mr Moran were quick to publish, they have been slow to defend,” Mr Wigney said.
“Moreover, there are reasonable grounds to suspect that the real reason for Nationwide and Mr Moran’s zealous, if not desperate, pursuit of the amendments is to justify a further subpoena to the STC in the hope that documents produced … might provide what has been to date proved to be an elusive defence of justification.”
In its defence filed in the Federal Court, the Daily Telegraph alleges that actor Eryn Jean Norvill, who was playing Rush’s daughter Cordelia, complained to the Sydney Theatre Company that “the actor touched her genitals during the production of King Lear without her consent”.
Rush has vehemently denied the claims and is seeking damages claiming the article portrayed him as a “pervert” and a “sexual predator”.
A trial date has been fixed for September.