The barrister Clive Evatt did a sterling job yesterday to persuade a
jury to put aside their predispositions about Abe Saffron and find that
his client was defamed in a “unique compendium of Australian villains,”
reports Richard Ackland’s Gazette of Law & Journalism.

According to Saffron the book, TOUGH. 101 Australian Gangsters,
by Melbourne journalists John Silvester and Andrew Rule, gave rise to
nine defamatory meanings, that Saffron: is an Australian gangster, is
known as Mr Sin, offered bribes to police, allegedly whipped a girl at
a party, had been described as “completely depraved,” has a reputation
as a crime boss, could have caused six suspicious fires in nightclubs
he owned, was arrested by the National Crime Authority and charged with
tax evasion, and was jailed for tax evasion.

It might seem
surprising that Saffron would sue on some of those meanings, but as
Evatt was at pains to point out even a person with a “bad or damaged
reputation” was entitled to protect “such reputation as he has.”

The
jury of four men were told to put out of their minds “whether or not
you like or dislike, approve or disapprove of what has been written
about Mr Saffron.” Importantly, they were also asked to exclude from
their thinking whether any of this material might be true.

The
truth or otherwise of what was published is a matter for the next round
when defences and, if necessary, damages are to be determined by a
judge sitting alone. Interestingly, the jury did not find defamatory
the imputations about Mr Sin, that Saffron allegedly whipped a girl at
a party or that he caused six suspicious fires.

Tom Blackburn,
for the defendant journalists, publisher and distributor, said: “This
case is absurd” and (referring to a small dog on the back cover of the
book), that: “It [the dog] had a better chance in this case than Mr Abe
Saffron.”

Saffron and Evatt now go on to fight The Gold Coast Bulletin in a case involving an allegedly defamatory crossword clue about “Mr Sin.”

Peter Fray

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