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Enemy fire: war hero to face his accusers as cross-examination begins

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Exactly a week after Ben Roberts-Smith entered the witness box in his defamation trial, media companies will get their first chance to poke holes in his evidence.

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Cross-examination now beckons for the Perth-born Victoria Cross recipient after his extensive and emotional evidence-in-chief concluded on Wednesday – the landmark trial’s seventh day.

Mr Roberts-Smith, 42, is suing the publishers of The Sydney Morning Herald, The Age and The Canberra Times over a series of articles he says falsely portray him as a war criminal and a “deplorable human being”.

The media companies say the articles are true or substantially true.

In his final answer to four days of questioning by his lawyer, the former special forces soldier clenched a tissue in his hand while speaking of being “traumatised” by the effect of the articles.

Roberts-Smith said he did “everything I was supposed to do” in Afghanistan, even when that meant not intervening when faced with locals abusing women and children.

“I saw things … and did things, like having to engage with adolescents, that I’m not proud of and I live with that,” the 42-year-old said.

But coming home to “demonstrably false” articles that were based on others’ lies and smears left him “traumatised”, his family life “untenable” and his private business in ruins.

In his evidence, the former SAS corporal has denied that he killed a captured Afghan insurgent, bullied another SAS soldier, or punched and kneed a detained Afghan male.

He also denied drinking from the prosthetic leg of a killed insurgent but has said he does not have a problem with “gallows humour” as a way for soldiers to desensitise from the horrors of combat.

On Wednesday, he admitted using burner phones to contact former colleagues after the first articles were published in June 2018.

But that wasn’t out of a want to avoid military or police investigators, he said, denying knowledge he was even under investigation.

He simply did not trust the media and their sources were not trying to intercept his communications, he said.

“The News of the World (phone hacking) thing was playing heavily on my mind,” he said.

“My view was that I just needed to talk on something that wasn’t going to be compromised.”

The media companies are defending their publications, alleging Mr Roberts-Smith committed six murders in Afghanistan and that none were carried out in the “fog of war”.

They are also defending as “substantially true” an August 2018 article concerning alleged domestic violence in a Canberra hotel room.

That article was the first to name Roberts-Smith.

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