Setting up their own publishing firms, Sly Inc and Floridale Productions, has been a lucrative sideline for legendary Age crime writers John Silvester and Andrew Rule. But for the first time in their lives the downside of putting your personal assets on the line has become apparent.

Former Kings Cross identity Abe Saffron has sued Silvester and Rule for libel in the NSW Supreme Court and notched up an initial victory in the cumbersome and plaintiff-friendly two-stage process that is defamation in Sin City. Check out the AAP coverage of Wednesday’s finding in the NSW Supreme Court here.

There aren’t many Australian hacks who have been sued without an indemnity from their employer. Having experienced this three times, I do sympathise with Silvester and Rule, although they have profited to the tune of hundreds of thousands from their various books over the years, starting with Chopper Read’s often fictional fantasies about 15 years ago.

Without a fat publisher to go after, Saffron has named five defendants in this case: Rule, Silvester, Sly Inc, Floridale Productions and the distributor, Gary Allen Pty Ltd.

Rule was interviewed by Virginia Trioli on ABC Radio Victoria yesterday, defiantly declaring they would defend the action pleading “truth” as he speculated about Abe’s motivations and his long career dating back to 1955. With an estimated $30,000 in all party costs already racked up, Rule needs to be careful he doesn’t aggravate any damages, as Abe’s lawyers have already called for the transcript.

Saffron clearly has enough readies to dig in for a long fight as Rule claimed that he should be on the BRW Rich List, so we’ve added him to the Crikey Revised Wealth (CRW) list.

Saffron is nothing if not loyal when it comes to his legal counsel. Representing him in court this week was barrister Clive Evatt Jnr, whose father, Clive Evatt Snr, was the brother of former Labor leader Dr Evatt and represented Abe for more than 30 years starting in the 1950s.

Evatt Snr was on board when Abe sued The Sun, then owned by Fairfax, for defamation way back in 1974. In that case the jury found Fairfax could not sustain its line: “Sydney underworld figure nicknamed Mr Sin” and the case settled favourably for Saffron.

Clive Evatt Snr was delighted with that result, but 30 years on his son and Abe weren’t so pleased last year when a jury found in favour of TheSMH’s Sauce columnist Kate McClymont. Yes, the jury found that Fairfax had said Abe had an unsavoury reputation, but this was not deemed defamatory. Abe had to pay Fairfax’s costs.

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey