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SAS witness won’t speak of alleged murder

Another SAS soldier has refused to give evidence in court about an alleged murder during an Afghanistan mission under the patrol command of war hero Ben Roberts-Smith, due to the risk of self-incrimination.

The witness, codenamed Person 66, began giving evidence in the Federal Court on Monday, but stopped short about a military operation in 2012 under the Victoria Cross recipient.

According to the news outlets Mr Roberts-Smith is suing for defamation, Person 66 had never killed anyone prior to the mission at Syahchow where a number of prisoners were captured.

The former SAS corporal allegedly took Person 66 out to a field with two prisoners and ordered him to shoot both, and he “did so”, according to court documents.

Following the event Mr Roberts-Smith said he had “blooded” the rookie, referencing a phrase where a young trooper gets their first kill in action.

Mr Roberts-Smith, 43, is suing The Age, The Sydney Morning Herald and The Canberra Times over reports claiming he committed war crimes and murders in Afghanistan between 2006 and 2012.

Australia’s most decorated living war hero denies all the claims against him, while the media outlets are defending them as true.

Person 66 follows evidence from federal government MP Andrew Hastie, who was also present at the mission where the alleged execution occurred.

Mr Hastie – the assistant minister for defence who was a captain in the Special Air Service Regiment between 2010 and 2015 – previously told the court Mr Roberts-Smith walked past him following the alleged execution.

“He looked me in the eye and said ‘just a couple more dead c***s’.”

Mr Hastie denied he had been critical of Mr Roberts-Smith to raise his own profile as a parliamentarian or that he had come to court to support the newspaper’s claims because they were giving him financial assistance in another legal matter.

Under heated cross-examination in which Mr Hastie described the trial as “sad”, and that he “pitied” Mr Roberts-Smith, he defended speaking to journalists while an inquiry into the war crime allegations was underway, saying the “system has failed”.

The trial will resume on Tuesday with legal argument as to whether Person 66 is obliged to give the evidence in court.

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