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‘Odd’: TV journalist and ufologist’s secretive report about Ben Roberts-Smith

Ben Roberts-Smith’s billionaire backers enlisted a star TV journalist and UFO researcher to run a secretive counter investigation into war crime allegations, a court has been told.

But the report, which is so closely guarded even the elite soldier has not seen it, may not see the light of day, as his lawyers try to keep it from getting out.

Australia’s most decorated living soldier is suing Nine and its journalists, claiming they falsely accused him of killing six unarmed prisoners in Afghanistan.

Nine says its reports are correct and Mr Roberts-Smith is a war criminal.

The long-running defamation trial is in limbo after the coronavirus outbreak in Sydney cut crucial SAS witnesses out of the courtroom.

But details of a “curious” investigation, launched by billionaires and headed by top journalist Ross Coulthart, emerged in an administrative hearing this week.

Victoria Cross for Australia
Camera IconBen Roberts-Smith is suing Nine and its journalists. Department of Defence Credit: Supplied

Justice Wendy Abraham on Monday was told Mr Roberts-Smith’s bosses at Seven Network approached the veteran journalist Coulthart in mid-2018.

Seven director Bruce McWilliam asked Coulthart to dig into rumours that Mr Roberts-Smith had committed atrocities during his deployments, the court was told.

Seven wanted Coulthart to investigate, the court was told, exactly what Nine journalists Chris Masters and Nick McKenzie planned to publish about Mr Roberts-Smith.

Mr Roberts-Smith’s barrister, Arthur Moses SC, told Justice Abraham the report was to help defend the ex-soldier against a “relentless” campaign by a “rival” media outlet.

That campaign to degrade his reputation would likely continue until the defamation trial ended, he said.

The Coulthart report was also designed to inform Seven West Media of the allegations so they could get legal advice, he said.

Nine’s lawyers are trying to get their hands on the Coulthart report, saying it is unusual that a journalist and a PR firm would conduct an investigation for a company seeking “legal advice”.

“It is a very odd thing to ask an investigative journalist to go around doing fact finding for a lawyer,” Nine’s barrister Nicholas Owens SC told the court.

Ross Coulthart has written a secret report about Mr Roberts-Smith, a court has been told. Greg Flynn
Camera IconRoss Coulthart has written a secret report about Mr Roberts-Smith, a court has been told. Greg Flynn Credit: Supplied

Mr Roberts-Smith’s side is resisting its release, claiming it was privileged communication with lawyers.

Nine’s barrister told the court Mr McWilliam instructed Coulthart to address the report to Mr Moses and some members of the legal team but not others.

Mr Roberts-Smith was consulted for the report but had not seen it, nor has his primary barrister in the defamation trial Bruce McClintock SC, the court was told.

One person who did see the report was billionaire network chief Kerry Stokes, who is funding Mr Roberts-Smith’s lawsuit and paying for the lawyer for another SAS witness, Justice Abraham was told.

“There’s been a very careful attempt to keep this document to the group of people Mr McWilliam thinks should have it,” Mr Owens said.

Mr Owens also said Coulthart, while putting the report together, rang Nine’s journalists and told them they had their facts wrong.

Camera IconMr Roberts-Smith’s barrister, Arthur Moses SC, told the court the report was to help defend the ex-soldier against a ‘relentless’ campaign. NCA NewsWire / Dylan Coker Credit: News Corp Australia

Coulthart told Nine’s journalists he had found a witness who contradicted their version of events and he was putting together “a story” of his own, the court was told.

Mr Owens said it was an attempt to persuade Nine it was making mistakes and to back off further reporting.

Coulthart – a celebrated journalist – once worked at Nine, the company that is now defending itself against Mr Roberts-Smith’s lawsuit.

Coulthart has also become an international voice on what he calls the “UFO mystery”.

His new book In Plain Sight and a documentary than ran on Seven, called The UFO Phenomenon, claims US authorities have made astonishing admissions.

He calls his UFO research the most confronting and challenging point of his career.

“What he has found suggests that the world is on the cusp of extraordinary technological breakthroughs and cultural revelations,” his website reads.

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