Friend takes aim at Ben Roberts-Smith before court case
A former confidante of Victoria Cross winner Ben Roberts-Smith has turned on him and is expected to give evidence against the Afghanistan war veteran at a highly anticipated defamation trial beginning next month.
Documents filed with the Federal Court show that security guard and former freelance 60 Minutes "fixer'' John McLeod will be asked about posting an allegedly intimidatory letter on behalf of Mr Roberts-Smith to an SAS soldier who served with him in Afghanistan.
The Daily Telegraph also understands that Mr McLeod was one of a group of people present in 2018 when Mr Roberts-Smith was secretly recorded at a meeting venting about his colleagues at Channel 7 and praising network chairman Kerry Stokes for backing his legal case.
Those secret, yet legal, recordings - made in Queensland - and details of the posting of the letter from a post office at Tweed Heads were subsequently given by an unknown source to journalist Nick McKenzie, aired on Nine's 60 Minutes and published in Nine Newspapers. When questions were directed to Nine about how those recordings were made, and by whom, Mr McKenzie responded with a furious series of phone calls and public statements on Twitter.
Mr McKenzie, his colleagues Chris Masters and David Wroe, and their employer Nine are being sued by Mr Roberts-Smith for allegedly defaming Australia's most decorated veteran by claiming he committed war crimes during his deployments to Afghanistan.
Mr Roberts-Smith denies any wrongdoing. Nine is vigorously defending the civil claim.
Nine's lawyers told the court in filings that Mr McLeod "is unwilling to incriminate himself except with the benefit of a certificate pursuant to s. 128 of the Evidence Act" which is his legal right and, if granted by the court, protects him from prosecution.
They said Nine "will contend at trial that Mr McLeod posted the envelope and it was thereafter received by" a former SAS soldier who served with Mr Roberts-Smith in Afghanistan.
There is no evidence Mr McLeod knew of the contents of the letter prior to posting it.
Lawyers for Mr Roberts-Smith said Nine's "case can only be that it was Mr McLeod who posted the envelope at Tweed Heads".
The 60 Minutes episode on April 11 also featured secretly taped recordings of Mr Roberts-Smith talking to three people in a public place in Queensland, where it is legal to covertly record conversations.
In the recordings, Mr Roberts-Smith vowed to "f...ing destroy" his enemies, complained about colleagues at Channel Seven, where he is the Queensland general manager, and praised chairman Kerry Stokes.
"There's no f...ing way I'd be able to keep paying what I'm paying for until Kerry got into it. That's why now they're shitting themselves because they realise he's prepared to run his bank down to do it," Mr Roberts-Smith was recorded saying.
Sources told The Daily Telegraph that Mr McLeod, then on friendly terms with Mr Roberts-Smith, was one of a group of people at the 2018 meeting where the war hero was recorded.
The identity of the person who recorded the meetings remains unknown.
Mr McLeod, a former policman, is a media-savvy fixer who helped with the recent rescue of academic Kylie Moore-Gilbert from Iran.
He also helped to bring back his friend Adam Whittington after he became stranded in Lebanon as part of the bungled 60 Minutes child recovery story, led by journalist Tara Brown. But when the camera was turned on him and he was asked about any involvement in the recordings it sparked an extraordinary chain of events. He did not respond to questions.
The morning after pictures were taken of Mr McLeod from a public street, Mr McKenzie wrote on Twitter that a witness had been intimidated.
"Shocking development in Ben Roberts-Smith case," he tweeted." Key police, court witness about alleged witness intimidation is being followed by Brisbane photographer Daily Tele probing false claims about same witness. News Limited at risk of being used. Witnesses should NOT be harassed. AFP aware."
Just over 45 minutes later, Mr McKenzie followed that tweet up with another one, naming the man who had taken the pictures as award-winning freelance photographer Tertius Pickard.
"Photographer following police witness in Ben Roberts-Smith case is Tertius Pickard. This pic recently attributed to Pickard online. In being told to follow witness, Pickard may unwittingly, accidentally caused potential witness intimidation. Pickard not saying who he works for."
What Mr McKenzie did not tell his 23,000 followers was that before taking to Twitter he had himself angrily called Mr Pickard and shouted at the experienced news photographer.
Mr McKenzie asked if Mr Pickard knew of Mr McLeod's involvement in a "very serious" investigation and claimed he had been observed by the AFP following Mr McLeod "on more than one occasion". Mr Pickard had only photographed the security guard that day.
Neither Mr McKenzie or Nine complained of witness intimidation last August when the same photographer captured an embarrassing image of Mr Roberts-Smith holding hands with one of his solicitors during a weekend getaway in Brisbane.
Originally published as Friend takes aim at Ben Roberts-Smith before court case