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SAS witnesses baulking at giving evidence

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One SAS witness due to give evidence for newspapers being sued by Ben Roberts-Smith appears to have cold feet, with the media outlets claiming the war hero’s barrister had a hand in it.

Mr Roberts-Smith, one of Australia’s most decorated living soldiers, is suing three newspapers for defamation, denying their reports that he committed war crimes and murders in Afghanistan between 2006 and 2012.

A soldier, codenamed Person 66 and allegedly “blooded” by Mr Roberts-Smith in 2012, was due to testify in the Federal Court on Friday.

But the court was told on Wednesday the soldier was meeting with two lawyers.

The two lawyers are understood to have also met with another soldier, codenamed Person 56, whose “position has changed” recently, said the media outlets’ barrister, Nicholas Owens SC.

Mr Owens said he’d become aware one of Mr Roberts-Smith’s barristers had recently made contact with Sydney barrister Philip Boulten SC, expressing concerns the interests of Persons 56 and 66 were not being properly protected.

The media outlets understand Mr Boulten contacted solicitor Peter Hodges and “through means unknown” either one or both of the pair were placed in contact with the two soldiers.

The initial contact occurred in spite of the two lawyers sitting outside the list of lawyers involved in the lawsuit who are authorised to know the identities of the SAS personnel.

Only subsequently were the witnesses’ retained Defence-approved lawyers made aware of the contact, Mr Owens said.

“Subsequent to that contact, Person 56’s position has changed,” he said on Wednesday.

According to the media’s defence, Person 56 and Mr Roberts-Smith were involved in the allegedly unlawful killing of Ali Jan in 2012, by falsely alleging the Afghan villager was a Taliban spotter.

Mr Roberts-Smith denies any wrongdoing.

The media outlets on Wednesday were granted leave to subpoena Mr Boulten and Mr Hodges for copies of communications between them and the potential witnesses regarding giving evidence in the defamation trial.

The material is due to be provided to the court ahead of a further mention on Thursday afternoon.

Meanwhile, cross-examination of a serving SAS soldier codenamed Person 14 continued on Wednesday.

He said a soldier known as Person Six informed him in 2014 that journalist Chris Masters was writing a book on the SAS and was “looking to talk to operators and military historians and he may be in contact with you”.

Person Six, described by another witness as a “hater” of Mr Roberts-Smith, formally complained about the war hero’s receipt of an award in 2012, the court has been told.

Aside from that first comment in 2014, Person Six never followed up again about whether Person 14 had spoken to the journalist, the witness said.

The hearing continues.

– AAP

We’ve Already Come Too Far To End This Now.

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