Geoffrey Rush has won a defamation case with an Australian newspaper which accused him of inapproriate behaviour with an actress during a theatre production.
Damages are yet to be decided, but he will be awarded at least $850,000 – around £465,000 – from Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp.
That figure, solely for the damage to his reputation, is likely to rise into the millions to reflect the actor’s loss of earnings during the case.
Sydney’s Daily Telegraph published stories, one with the headline ‘King Leer’, that alleged Rush had sexually harassed his co-star Eryn Jean Norvill during a 2015 production of Shakespeare’s King Lear at the Sydney Theatre Company. Rush always denied the allegations.
Justice Michael Wigney, in presiding over the case, said that Norvill’s testimony was ‘inconsistent’ and that she was ‘prone to exaggeration and embellishment’, adding that those corroborating her account of events were not credible.
He called the Telegraph’s reporting ‘a recklessly irresponsible piece of sensational journalism of the worst kind’, adding that he was ‘acutely conscious of and had regard to the difficulties and disadvantages that are often encountered by complainants in cases involving allegations of sexual harassment’.
He added that Norvill had ‘essentially been dragged into the spotlight’ by the newspaper.
Wigney also said that further damage was done when the paper ‘doubled down’ on the claims with stories the following day.
“Having apparently received some backlash in relation to the previous day’s publications, they set about ‘bootstrapping’ the story to include some misleading statements of support for the allegations,” he said.
Rush, star of Oscar-winning movies like Shine and The King’s Speech, claimed that the stories portrayed him as a ‘pervert’, a ‘sexual predator’ who had ‘committed sexual assault’, after it was claimed he cupped Norvill’s breast, put his hand under her skirt and sent her inappropriate texts.
In remarks outside court, Rush thanked his wife, actress Jane Menelaus, and his children, adding: “There are no winners in this case. It’s been extremely distressing for all involved.”
Rush’s lawyers have claimed that he lost as much as $5 million in income between the publication of the story in October 2017 and the trial.