Oscar-winning actor Geoffrey Rush has been awarded $850,000 in initial damages after winning his defamation case against Nationwide News, over two articles published by The Daily Telegraph in 2017.
Handing down a damning judgement in the Federal Court on Thursday, Justice Michael Wigney said Nationwide News and journalist Jonathon Moran failed to prove the imputations published in two articles in late 2017 were true.
Justice Wigney found the actor at the centre of the accusations against Rush, Eryn Jean Norvill, was an unreliable witness, prone to “exaggeration and embellishment”.
He said Ms Norvill’s evidence was not credible or reliable and contradicted by other members of the cast during the Sydney Theatre Company’s 2015-16 season of King Lear, when the incidents reported by The Daily Telegraph were alleged to have occurred.
“This was, in all circumstances a recklessly irresponsible piece of sensationalist journalism of the very worst kind,” he said.
Rush launched the proceedings last year.
His legal team argued the imputations conveyed by the articles included that he was a “pervert”, a “sexual predator” and had engaged in “scandalously inappropriate” behaviour in the theatre.
Justice Wigney said The Daily Telegraph and Mr Moran failed to adequately research the stories before they published.
“This is a sad and unfortunate case,” he said.
Rush sat in court with his wife Jane Menelaus and showed little emotion as a lengthy summary of the judgement was read out.
Justice Wigney said it would have been better “for all concerned” if the issues arising from the articles had been dealt with outside a defamation court.
“But they were not. And so it comes to this.”
He ruled Rush was entitled to “aggravated damages” of $850,000.
A further hearing will be held on May 10 to consider special damages for the actor’s economic loss. That figure could run into many millions of dollars.