Geoffrey Rush speaks to the media after Justice Wigney found in his favour (Image: AAP/Paul Braven)

This is act nine in Inq’s series on the media trial of Geoffrey Rush. Read the full series here.

“A recklessly irresponsible piece of sensationalist journalism of the worst kind.”

Justice Michael Wigney’s judgment in Geoffrey Rush’s defamation case against The Daily Telegraph publishers Nationwide News was brutal, scathing and unambiguous. 

Denouncing the Telegraph’s stories as “a recklessly irresponsible piece of sensationalist journalism of the worst kind, the very worst kind,” he awarded Rush $850,000 to cover general damages plus approximately $2 million in special damages to cover past and future economic loss.

Delivering his judgment in a televised statement on April 11, 2019, Justice Wigney left no sliver of a doubt about his assessment of the newspaper and the witnesses from both sides in this vexed case. 

On Geoffrey Rush: “On the whole, I consider that Mr Rush was a credible witness who gave honest and reliable evidence about the critical events in question.”

On Eryn Jean Norvill: “Despite the somewhat difficult nature of her circumstances, Ms Norvill generally presented as an intelligent, articulate and confident witness who was endeavouring to give an honest recollection of the events in question … putting Ms Norvill’s demeanour to one side, however, there are a number of aspects to the evidence which raise significant issues about her credibility as a witness and the reliability of the evidence she gave concerning the disputed events … there were also some indications in Ms Norvill’s evidence that she was a witness who was, at times, prone to embellishment or exaggeration.”

On the allegation of Rush touching Norvill’s breast: “I accept the evidence given by Mr Rush that he never intentionally touched Ms Norvill’s breast … the suggestion that Mr Rush would intentionally stroke or cup Ms Norvill’s breast during this scene in a preview performance is highly implausible. It is inconsistent with Mr Rush’s dedication and professionalism as an actor.”

On the allegation of Rush touching Norvill’s back: “On balance, I am not persuaded that Mr Rush intentionally touched and rubbed Ms Norvill’s back in the manner described by her. I do not accept that Ms Norvill’s evidence about this incident was entirely reliable or credible … nor am I persuaded that Mr Rush intended to touch Ms Norvill’s back for his sexual or personal gratification … nor do I accept that Ms Norvill told Mr Rush to ‘please stop that’.”

On the “socially appropriate” text message: “I reject the submissions advanced by Nationwide and [entertainment reporter Jonathon Moran] in relation to this text message. In particular, I reject the submission that the statement ‘I was thinking of you (as I do more than is socially appropriate)’, considered either with or without the emoji, was an ‘invitation’, or that Mr Rush was ‘putting it out there’. An invitation to do what? Putting what out there?”

On the Telegraph’s journalism: “The most striking feature of those articles is that, despite what appears to have been the relative paucity of actual objective information available to Nationwide and Mr Moran, the articles occupied almost the entire first page and a double page spread on pages four and five … the double page spread on pages four and five was equally excessive and sensationalist … the juxtaposition of the article about Don Burke, and its inclusion within the same ‘box’ as the articles concerning Mr Rush, clearly linked, and it may be inferred was intended to link, the allegations against Mr Rush to the Don Burke story and the broader Harvey Weinstein scandal.”

On the Telegraph’s follow-up story: “Nationwide and Mr Moran’s intentions were clear. Having been criticised for the previous day’s publications, they set about ‘bootstrapping’ the story to include misleading statements of support for the complainant’s allegations. 

On the Telegraph’s motive: “Mr Rush submitted that it should be inferred that the motive of Nationwide and Mr Moran was to boost sales and increase circulation by way of sensationalist articles concerning the Me Too movement … I agree.”

On the Telegraph’s conduct: “I accept Mr Rush’s contention that the conduct of Nationwide and Mr Moran in publishing the … articles was, in all the circumstances, unjustified and improper because they were reckless as to the truth or falsity of the defamatory imputations conveyed by the articles and had failed to make adequate inquiries before publication … particularly in the sensational and extravagant manner in which they were published … Nationwide and Mr Moran’s conduct … was in all the circumstances both improper and unjustifiable.”

The reason for aggravated damages to Rush: “… the hurt and distress suffered by Mr Rush as a result of the defamatory publications in issue in this proceeding has been aggravated by the manner in which Nationwide and Mr Moran have conducted themselves during the course of this proceeding.”

The impact of the stories on Geoffrey Rush: “As a result of the publications and the effect they had on him mentally and physically, he was simply unable to muster the confidence, concentration, drive, enthusiasm and stamina to act … Mr Rush’s evidence was that he feared or lacked the confidence to be seen in public following the publications. How, in those circumstances, could he possibly be expected to have competently performed in front of an audience, or even a camera.”

* * *

“I’m pleased to acknowledge the decisions made this afternoon,” Rush said outside the courtroom. “But there are no winners in this case, it’s been extremely distressing for everyone involved. I want to thank my wife Jane and my children for their support during this harrowing time.”

Norvill, with strands of hair flying loose from her bun, looked defeated. “I stand by everything I said at trial. I told the truth. I know what happened. I was there… It has to be possible for a young woman working in theatre who feels unsafe in her workplace to get that situation fixed.”

Next: The appeal