Geoffrey Rush collects record damages in actress claim defamation

Oscar-winning actor ­Geoffrey Rush has won an ­Australian record of 2.9 ­million Australian dollars (£1.6 million) damages by a Sydney judge yesterday in a defamation case against a newspaper publisher and journalist over reports that he had been accused of ­inappropriate behaviour toward an actress.

Geoffrey Rush arrives for the UK film premiere of Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides, at the Vue Westfield in west London. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Picture date: Thursday May 12, 2011. Photo credit: Ian West/PA Wire

The 67-year-old Australian had sued the publisher of ­Sydney’s The Daily Telegraph and journalist Jonathon Moran in the Federal Court over two stories and a poster published in late 2017.

Justice Michael Wigney found in April that the publisher, News Corp.-owned Nationwide News, and Moran were reckless regarding the truth when they reported Rush had been accused of inappropriate behaviour by actress Eryn Jean Norvill.

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She played the daughter of Rush’s character in a Sydney theatre production of King Lear in 2015 and 2016. The judge found a poster and two articles contained several defamatory meanings, including that Rush was a pervert and a sexual predator, but the publisher had not proved the meanings were true.

Wigney at the time ­awarded Rush AU$850,000 in damages plus AU$42,302 interest for non-economic loss. But he wanted to consider further special damages, including loss of earnings.

Following an agreement between the parties, the judge yesterday awarded Rush a ­further AU$1.98 million for past and future economic loss.

The publisher and journalist are appealing the verdict.

Rush’s lawyer, Sue Chrysanthou, said Rush had offered early last year to ­settle in for an apology and AU$50,000 plus costs, but Nationwide News did not respond.

Comic actress Rebel Wilson had previously won an Australian record AU$4.7 ­million damages in 2017 in a ­defamation case against a magazine publisher. But the damages were reduced by 90 per cent on appeal.

Orange Is the New Black actress Yael Stone was revealed two weeks ago as the potential witness who Wigney refused to allow to testify.

Nationwide News lost a mid-trial bid last November to amend its defence based on Stone’s evidence.

Wigney said the proposed amendment raised new ­allegations, would delay court proceedings and cause Rush “manifest and palpable” ­prejudice. The trial by then had run for 12 days and ended three days later.

The judge prohibited Stone from being publicly identified. The Netflix series actress was described in the media as ­Witness X. Stone told The New York Times in December that Rush engaged in sexually inappropriate behaviour when they starred in The Diary of a Madman on a Sydney stage in 2010.