Ben Roberts-Smith’s former patrol commander has denied colluding and lying about his evidence to explain two Afghans’ deaths at the centre of the defamation trial his good friend launched.
The witness codenamed Person Five faced detailed questioning in the Federal Court on Friday about a secret tunnel uncovered during a mission to the Taliban compound dubbed Whiskey 108.
The former SAS soldier and the Victoria Cross recipient both testified no men were found inside the tunnel, while others say they witnessed them emerge and surrender.
The newspapers allege that Mr Roberts-Smith executed one of the prisoners with a prosthetic leg, and stood by Person Five ordering a fresh trooper to execute the other.
Person Five agreed it was rare and significant to discover a tunnel, and said he had a quick but not extensive look and assumed it had a second exit.
But he denied fabricating another tunnel entrance to explain how two men “materialised inside the compound” where he says they were legitimately shot.
Nicholas Owens SC submitted that Person Five was also worried that identification documents belonging to the man with the fake leg had been found inside the tunnel.
“I do not agree with that,” Person Five replied.
Mr Roberts-Smith is suing The Age, The Sydney Morning Herald over reports claiming he committed war crimes in Afghanistan including murder, and acts of bullying and domestic violence.
The 43-year-old denies all claims of wrongdoing, while the mastheads are defending them as true.
Documents aired in court showed Person Five sent a birds-eye image of the mission to Mr Roberts-Smith in July 2019, weeks before outlines of evidence in the case were due to be filed.
He said he can’t recall why he did so.
The former Royal Marine said he never possessed the image himself but was sent it by his lawyer. But after Mr Owens proved this was impossible due to her timeline of work, he said he wasn’t sure who did.
“You both spent many hours refining what you were going to say about Whiskey 108 in this case,” Mr Owens put to Person Five, which he denied.
Person Five has also repeatedly denied saying or hearing the term “rookie” during deployment in 2009.
The media outlets have alleged at Whiskey 108 Person Five ordered the fresh trooper known as Person Four to execute the unarmed prisoner to get his first kill in action, or “blood the rookie”.
He along with Mr Roberts-Smith denied this ever occurred.
“We don’t blood people, I thought I made that perfectly clear,” he said on Thursday.
On Friday Mr Owens asked if he was aware of a poster in Person Five’s own patrol room marked with each soldier’s name.
One young trooper had written “rookie f***” next to his, a term Mr Owens submitted was widely used throughout the patrol.
Person Five said he did not remember the poster.
On Thursday the court was told that Person Five discovered his legal bills were being paid for by Seven Network on Tuesday, almost two years after engaging with his lawyers.
Prior to that day he never made any inquiries as to their estimated rates, costs, or bills, he said.
Mr Owens outlined in court on Friday a number of subpoenas he had issued to Seven Network, boss Kerry Stokes and commercial director Bruce McWilliam seeking relevant documents.
Person Five doesn’t think he sent Mr Roberts-Smith USB sticks containing images taken in Afghanistan that were allegedly later buried in his backyard.
Included in the “hundreds of compromising photographs of your colleagues” was an image of an SAS soldier dressed in a Ku Klux Klan outfit, Mr Owens said.
“I wasn’t there at the time but I believe it’s Person 35,” Person Five said.
Person 35 is due to give evidence on behalf of Mr Roberts-Smith.
The trial before Justice Anthony Besanko continues.
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