Former Liberal member for Indi Sophie Mirabella has won a defamation trial against a regional north-east Victorian newspaper.
Mrs Mirabella sued the Benalla Ensign newspaper and its editor Libby Price after it published an article saying she had publicly pushed her political opponent, Indi MP Cathy McGowan, on the 2016 election campaign trail.
The former MP broke down in tears when the jury read its verdict at the County Court at Wangaratta on Wednesday afternoon.
Outside court Mrs Mirabella said the article had a devastating impact on her reputation and her life.
“It shouldn’t have got to this point. It should have got fixed up soon after the Ensign published,” she said.
“It’s been a long and difficult process.”
Mrs Mirabella said she was relieved to finally have her name cleared.
“I just thank the common sense of the jury, I thank my family who stood by me and suffered through a lot of this, and of course my lawyers and friends who have been there,” she said.
Mrs Mirabella, who broke down several times while giving her evidence, told the trial the report was “devastating” and “gut-wrenching”.
“I’m not a sensitive, delicate wallflower … and I’ve put up with a lot of stuff, but this was the last straw, to be called someone who pushes, assaults other women, it was disgusting,” Mrs Mirabella told the jury.
Newspaper admitted it got story wrong
At the time the story was published, Mrs Mirabella was contesting the rural seat of Indi, which she lost to Ms McGowan in 2013.
The trial heard the newspaper admitted it got it wrong when it published that Mrs Mirabella had pushed Ms McGowan out of a photo opportunity with Liberal MP Ken Wyatt at a nursing home.
In defending the case, the newspaper admitted it got the story wrong but claimed Mrs Mirabella instead pushed Mr Wyatt.
Mr Wyatt told the trial Mrs Mirabella “moved around in front of me, put her hands on my chest and asked that I don’t [allow the photo] because it would legitimise an alliance to the Liberal party”.
He told the court he was twice approached by Mrs Mirabella in June last year, after the defamation suit had been launched, and Mrs Mirabella “said we have to get our evidence right”.
A hearing to determine damages will be held in Wangaratta on Thursday.