Outspoken radio personality Alan Jones has been found guilty of defaming the Wagner family, after implying that they were responsible for the deaths of 12 people at their family-owned quarry in Grantham in 2011.
The Queensland Supreme Court passed the judgement on Wednesday, awarding the family, from Toowoomba, $3.4 million in damages, plus interest, according to the ABC.
Jones, along with co-defendants 2GB and 4BC, published the defamatory comments during a series of 32 broadcasts between 2o14 and 2015, following the tragic deaths during the Grantham flash floods when a quarry wall owned by the family collapsed, also destroying about 50 homes in the community.
Following a seven week trial, Judge Peter Flanagan ruled the defamatory imputations were serious and of the gravest kind and ordered 2GB to pay more than $750,000 to each of the defendants, while 4BC has been ordered to pay more than $100,000.
Jones must pay $850,000 to each of the four Wagner brothers defamed in his broadcasts, however the 75-year-old former national rugby coach refused to back down from his belief that the quarry was responsible for the deaths.
During cross-examination, Jones told the court: “I’ve said that many times, that’s not news.” However he denied that he had a “bitter hatred” for the family.
The Wagner family also claimed that Jones suggested they illegally gained airspace for their privately-built Wellcamp Airport at Toowoomba, and that it was corruptly approved, reports the ABC.
The family-run Wagner Group was cleared of any responsibility for the deaths in 2015, after a commission of inquiry by Walter Sofronoff QC ruled that their quarry played an insignificant role in the flood.
Wagner Group’s Denis Wagner and his brothers previously sought legal action against Channel Nine’s 60 Minutes, in 2016, over an episode of the current affairs show, which also seemed to blame the family for the deaths. They also sued freelance journalist and The Australian columnist Nick Cater, however the claims against him were dismissed.