Australian actor Geoffrey Rush has won a defamation case against Sydney newspaper The Daily Telegraph, after he filed legal action over two stories published about him.
Federal Court Justice Michael Wigney awarded the 67-year-old a sum of $850,000 in aggravated damages on Thursday, with the star set to be awarded further payment in special damages next month, to compensate for any financial loss he has suffered as a result of the published claims.
Handing down his judgement at Sydney’s Supreme Court, Wigney explained that while the cap for damages is usually set at $400,000 in defamation cases, in this instance, as “the conduct of Nationwide and Mr Moran was improper and unjustified”, Rush would be awarded aggravated damages.
The publication had accused The King’s Speech star of misconduct during his time at the Sydney Theatre Company during a production of King Lear in 2015 and 2016. The defamatory article described Rush as a “pervert” and “sexual predator” and included claims from one of the actor’s co-stars in the production.
Rush denied the allegations and sued the The Daily Telegraph over the article, which was published on the front page of the newspaper, claiming they were “false, pejorative and demeaning claims”, reports The Guardian.
Speaking on Thursday Wigney said the publication had “failed to properly inquire into the facts before publication” with the article most likely resulting in a loss of acting opportunities for the star.
“This was a recklessly irresponsible piece of sensational journalism of the worst kind,” Wigney said during the court hearing. “The very worst kind.”
He added: “He [Rush] lost the desire to act, his creative spirit was at a low ebb, he was fearful of audience reaction. He was unlikely to receive any real offers of work at least until 12 months after the vindication of his reputation of this judgment.”
The judge continued by claiming Rush’s accuser, actress Eryn Jean Norvill, was “prone to exaggeration and embellishment” as a witness, adding that her evidence was not only “uncorroborated” but also “contradicted” by the director Neil Armfield and cast members Robyn Nevin and Helen Buday.
Norvill had alleged that the actor had “deliberately” stroked down the side of her right breast to her hip during a preview performance in late 2015. She also claimed Rush had rubbed her on her lower back under her shirt and on one occasion knelt above her and simulated groping her while raising his eyebrows and licking his lips.
“Her evidence was inconsistent with statements she gave to journalists about what it was like working with Mr Rush, including that she loved his ebullience, and loved working with him,” Wigney told the court.
Eryn Jean Norvill stands by everything she said at trial. "I told the truth. I know what happened."
Says she never wanted this to play out in the court and she would have settled for an apology and a promise to do better.
— Helen Davidson (@heldavidson) April 11, 2019
Addressing the media after the judgement, Rush said: “I’m pleased to acknowledge the decisions made this afternoon. There are no winners in this case, it’s been extremely distressing for everyone involved.”
While his former co-star Norvill told reports that she “told the truth” and stands by everything she said during the trial.
The amount to be paid for special damages for financial loss, as well as the decision regarding who should pay for proceedings, will be addressed during a case management hearing scheduled for May 10 at 9.30am.