Former Australian soldier Heston Russell blasts ABC after court win in defamation case

A special forces soldier awarded almost $400,000 after he was defamed by the ABC has slammed the national broadcaster for its “cloak and dagger” behaviour.

Heston Russell sued the ABC and two journalists over stories published in 2020 and 2021 that he claimed implied he was involved in the shooting of an unarmed prisoner.

Federal Court Justice Michael Lee presided over the months-long proceedings and on Monday ruled in favour of Mr Russell, who served with the ADF in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Mr Russell told 2GB’s Ben Fordham, who sat next to the former soldier in court, that he believed “justice was served”, but did not hold back in his criticism of the ABC.

“I think this whole trial exposes how dangerous the echo chamber is there at the ABC, in particular the investigations unit that allowed such red flags to be missed,” he said.

“It’s also hilarious, this indirect behaviour, where they won’t issue a public apology when we ask for it, but overnight – cloak and dagger – they’ll take down these articles.”

Mr Russell told Mr Fordham the articles had been taken down sometime on Monday night by the ABC, who he said had not contacted him since the judgement was delivered.

It comes as Mr Russell prepares to return to court for a hearing into his legal fees, which if granted could cost the taxpayer – along with damages – almost $2 million dollars.

Mr Russell also revealed that defamation lawyer Sue Chrysanthou SC had represented the former soldier on a “no win, no fee” basis, and that he couldn’t have otherwise afforded her.

The cases stems from a series of articles that Justice Lee agreed gave the imputation Mr Russell was involved in the alleged shooting of an unarmed prisoner in Afghanistan.

The allegations arose from a US Marine named “Josh’ who contacted journalist Mark Willacy about claims he had heard, but not witnessed, what he believed was a gunshot on radio.

Mr Russell held back in criticising Mr Willacy’s work, stating “I don’t want to launch my own defamation case”, but described comments by the journalist as “flippant and arrogant”.

“He (Mr Willacy) needs to do a lot as to reflection of the why he decided to sit behind the freedoms that we fought for and attack those who are out there fighting for it,” he said.

“Why he refused to accept criticism and why he so happily, in his own words, put an article out there trying to get a reaction without the consideration for the damage it has done.

“He spent two months writing an article … we were over there on that one deployment for five months, and we lost one of our best on the day that he published that article.”

Mr Russell first spoke out against the article to Daily Telegraph reporter Jonathon Moran, vehemently denying the allegations put forward in the ABC article.

During trial, the court heard journalist Mark Willacy had then told his source to let him know “if you hear from any Aussie journos”.

Mr Russell claimed on Tuesday that he had not been provided a right to reply by the ABC, and that the broadcaster had refused an editorial compliant until pressured by Mr Fordham.

The court judgment came only months after another high profile defamation case involving former special forces soldier Ben Roberts-Smith, who sued multiple newspapers.

Mr Roberts-Smith, the country’s most decorated soldier, had his case thrown out after a judgement deemed allegations he had killed an unarmed prisoner were true.

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