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Craig McLachlan walks away from defamation case

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Craig McLachlan has sensationally dropped his defamation case just as witnesses were due to testify about sexual assault and harassment claims made against him.

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The actor says his mental health will not withstand the continuing pressure of the case.

The actor had sued the ABC, Fairfax and former colleague Christie Whelan Browne in the NSW Supreme Court over the claims relating to female performers in the 2014 stage production of The Rocky Horror Show.

His case finished on Thursday and the defendants were due to begin calling their witnesses on Friday.

But Acting Justice Carolyn Simpson discharged the jury after the actor’s barrister Kieran Smark SC applied for leave to discontinue the proceedings.

She told the jurors there had been “a significant development” in the case with the actor deciding not to proceed further.

McLachlan had been accused of touching, kissing and groping actresses without permission in the Rocky Horror stage production, Neighbours, City Homicide, and The Doctor Blake Mysteries

In his evidence, the award-winning performer agreed he had brought sexual jokes and pranks to The Rocky Horror Show, including deep-throating bananas and masturbating crew members’ arms.

But he denied the allegations in the publications, and accused Whelan Browne and two other women of approaching the media for notoriety or money.

McLachlan and his wife, who had attended every day of the trial, were not present in court for the announcement.

But in a later statement he said the strain the case had put on him and his family had been utterly overwhelming.

“I cannot continue to place my family under that strain, and my own mental health will not withstand the continuing pressure,” he said.

‘”Ending the case now will finally bring to an end the four years we have endured since the publications were first made, as well as avoiding the need for other witnesses to have to endure the cross-examination process.”

His partner Vanessa Scammell testified her husband was “sucker-punched” by the articles, becoming a recluse, afraid to answer the phone and would surf at night to avoid being seen.

During his opening remarks to the jury on May 9, Smark described the trial as very significant for his client, saying it’s a case about a “double-pronged attack made on him by two powerful media organisations”.

The media outlets were defending the claims on the basis of truth.

Their barrister Michael Hodge QC told the jury 11 women were expected to allege misconduct by McLachlan during The Rocky Horror Show production and other television and theatre shows

In 2020, a Melbourne magistrate cleared McLachlan of indecently assaulting women during The Rocky Horror Show but described the actor as an unimpressive witness.

He was acquitted of seven counts of indecent assault and six of common law assault against four women during a run of the musical in Australia.

The magistrate described McLachlan’s accusers as brave and honest, but it was not enough to prove the incidents amounted to assault.

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