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Lawyers for Ben Roberts-Smith have admitted the war hero punched a junior trooper in the face in front of colleagues after a failed mission in Afghanistan.
The admission on Thursday comes during a defamation lawsuit where Mr Roberts-Smith is challenging accusations he is a bully and war criminal.
A new SAS witness – codenamed Person 10 – told the Federal Court about an incident in Afghanistan in 2012, which eventually resulted in his removal from the regiment.
He was two weeks into his first deployment with the SAS when one of his comrades was fired upon during a mission in the Chora Valley.
‘I turned around and saw three rounds splash just above his head, no more than 30 cm (away),’ he told the court.
Roberts-Smith’s lawyers admitted the decorated war hero had punched a junior trooper in the face in front of his team following a failed mission
Person 10 says he soon after saw movement nearby – two heads and what he perceived to be a machine gun – in an area where he had seen a suspicious man hours before.
He began firing to keep the ‘threat’ pinned down, before Mr Roberts-Smith – his patrol commander – called out for him to stop.
Moments later a woman and a child emerged, carrying a bird cage, he told the court.
When the troop returned to the base, Mr Roberts-Smith confronted him about the incident in front of his entire patrol.
The Victoria Cross recipient walked in, shut the door behind him, ordered Person 10 to stand up, then punched him in the jaw.
‘It forced me back … it rattled me. I … did not expect to be punched,’ he said.
Person 10 says Mr Roberts-Smith began ‘verbally abusing’ him after that, although he cannot remember what was said as he was in shock.
Barrister Arthur Moses suggested to Person 10 that his client had only punched him after he giggled at Mr Robert-Smith, who was questioning him about the event.
‘That did not happen,’ Person 10 replied.
Mr Roberts-Smith was angry the incident had almost killed a woman and child, Mr Moses said.
Person 10 was soon formally debriefed about the incident and accused of firing at his own colleagues, something he says is ‘simply false’.
In fact it was he and his partner who had been fired upon by another SAS patrol, Person 10 said he later learned.
The newspapers Mr Roberts-Smith is suing for defamation allege the accusation against Person 10 was invented to distract from the fact the mission the decorated war hero had planned was a failure and nearly fatal.
Person 10 was soon moved to another patrol, where he slumped into a depression.
‘My performance started slipping. I noticed I was withdrawing a lot … from my teammates … (I) couldn’t operate, couldn’t think clearly, couldn’t sleep.’
As he faced the prospect of being removed from the regiment at the end of his deployment, Person 10 told the court he received a warning phone call from Mr Roberts-Smith.
SAS witness, person 10, told the court he was ‘rattled’ after Roberts-Smith punched him when the troops returned to base
‘The crux of it was … if you threaten me or my family I will f*** you up.’
‘My understanding was that if I stated that he punched me … there would be consequences.’
Person 10 in his exit interview did make a complaint about the punch.
He earlier told the court Mr Roberts-Smith had also ordered him to mock execute a colleague pretending to be an Afghan prisoner – bound and on his knees – at a pre-deployment training exercise.
‘He said, ‘That’s how it’s going to be on the day’,’ Person 10 said.
Mr Roberts-Smith is suing The Age, The Sydney Morning Herald and The Canberra Times for defamation over reports claiming he committed war crimes and and bullied colleagues, allegations he denies.
The news outlets have called a number of SAS soldiers as witnesses – retired and serving – seeking to rely on a defence of truth.
The trial continues.