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Ben Roberts-Smith witness Person 5 denies colluding over Whiskey 108 mission

A former SAS patrol commander has denied a suggestion he colluded with Ben Roberts-Smith.

It comes as Sydney’s Federal Court is told the Seven Network is picking up the legal tab for the ex-commander, codenamed Person 5.

Nine newspapers have alleged Person 5, a key witness for Mr Roberts-Smith, ordered a subordinate to carry out one of the killings and that Mr Roberts-Smith killed the other Afghan.

Mr Roberts-Smith denies any unlawful killings and has launched a defamation lawsuit against the newspapers.

Person 5, who denies ordering the killing, took the stand for a second time on Thursday and was cross-examined by Nine’s barrister, Nicholas Owens SC.

Operation Slipper - Shah Wali Kot Offensive
Camera IconBen Roberts-Smith was Person 5’s second-in-command during their 2009 deployment to Afghanistan. Department of Defence Credit: Supplied

The ex-commander denied a suggestion by Mr Owens that he had colluded with Mr Roberts-Smith over what they would say about the 2009 raid, codenamed Whiskey 108, to the Inspector General of the Australian Defence Forces, which is looking into alleged war crimes by Australian troops.

“There was no collusion,” Person 5 said.

The court heard Person 5 and Mr Roberts-Smith spoke on the phone shortly after Person 5 had been interviewed by Inspector General staff.

The witness was shown a text message that Mr Roberts-Smith’s then-wife sent to a friend in May 2018, saying “(Person 5) rang brs late … he was drilled for hours”.

Person 5 said he didn’t know why the ex-wife would claim that and that the message didn’t reflect his true conversation with Mr Roberts-Smith.

BEN ROBERTS-SMITH
Camera IconNine barrister Nicholas Owens SC cross-examined the witness on Thursday. NCA NewsWire/Joel Carrett Credit: News Corp Australia

“No, I told him to prepare because there’s a witch hunt,” Person 5 said.

He said that while he hadn’t given the mission a “second thought” until 2018, he and the Victoria Cross recipient talked about Whiskey 108 at various points after it was written about in the media, including going through the mission ”step by step”.

“(We didn’t talk about what) we’d say happened, (we talked about) what happened. There’s a difference,” he said.

Answering questions about the Nine articles that levelled allegations regarding their conduct during the missions, Person 5 said the reporting was full of “lies”.

Mr Owens suggested to Person 5 he was motivated to give the court a “false account” of what happened during the mission “to ensure Mr Roberts-Smith doesn’t turn against you” and to protect himself against possible future prosecution over his own role.

“No, that’s not true,” Person 5 responded.

BEN ROBERTS-SMITH
Camera IconBen Roberts-Smith is suing Nine newspapers for defamation. NCA NewsWire / Nikki Short Credit: News Corp Australia

It was also revealed Person 5‘s legal fees, as well as several other witnesses that have indicated they will testify on Mr Roberts-Smith’s behalf, are being paid for by media corporation Network Seven.

The court heard Person 5’s legal fees alone had cost $65,000 so far, and that combined with those of two other witnesses, Seven was in for a bill for nearly $170,000.

Person 5 said he wasn’t aware of who was paying the legal fees until earlier this week, and that he had never asked his lawyers in the two years since he got Australian legal representation what it would cost.

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