Rupert Murdoch-owned tabloid cites 16 grounds on which it claims the trial was miscarried

The appeal by Sydney newspaper the Daily Telegraph against the record $2.9m in damages it was ordered to pay Geoffrey Rush after a series of defamatory articles about the Oscar-winning actor will begin on Monday.

Set down for two days, the appeal was brought by the Telegraph through its parent company, Nationwide News, after a judge ruled the paper had defamed Rush by alleging he engaged in inappropriate behaviour during a theatre production of King Lear in 2015.

The Rupert Murdoch-owned tabloid announced in May that it would appeal the verdict, citing 16 grounds on which it claims the trial was miscarried and that federal court justice Michael Wigneys conduct in the case gave rise to an apprehension of bias.

If the appeal fails, Rush is due to receive $2.9m in damages based on past and future lost earnings. It is the largest ever defamation payout to a single person in Australia after the Victorian court of appeal last year slashed the actor Rebel Wilsons damages payout from $4.5m to $600,000 over defamatory articles in Womans Daymagazine.

Published under the headline King Leer in November 2017, the Daily Telegraph reported the Sydney Theatre Company had received the anonymous complaint but provided no further details.

Follow-up articles were published the next day, which Wigney said doubled down on the story.

Rush sued the newspaper and the journalist Jonathon Moran, claiming the articles conveyed the imputation that Rush was a pervert, a sexual predator and committed sexual assault.

Heard over two weeks in November last year, much of the trial centred on the evidence of Rushs co-star Eryn Jean Norvill, who made the initial complaint about the actor to the Sydney Theatre Company.

Despite being at the centre of the Telegraphs articles, before the trial Norvill said she had never previously spoken publicly about Rushs alleged behaviour towards her.

After she complained to the theatre company, Norvill said she did not want to take the issue further, and did not want Rush to be informed of her complaint. She was not named in the Telegraphs stories and did not cooperate in their publication.

Over two days, Norvill told the court that Rush one of Australias best-known actors engaged daily in a pattern of sexual harassment including sexual innuendo and groping gestures that made her feel belittled, frightened and trapped.

The trial also included a rollcall of prominent members of Australias film, television and theatre community giving testimony on behalf of Rush.

The Oscar nominee Judy Davis and US agent Fred Specktor both took the stand to give evidence for the actor, while the director of the King Lear production, Neil Armfield, and two actors, Robyn Nevin and Helen Buday, told the court they did not witness any inappropriate behaviour from Rush during the production.

In his judgment, Wigney found in favour of Rush and said the reports in the Daily Telegraph were in all the circumstances, a recklessly irresponsible piece of sensationalist journalism of the worst kind.

The judge said that while 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 ultimately rejected Norvills evidence and instead accepted the version of Rushs witnesses.

He said Norvills evidence was not only uncorroborated but contradicted by … the evidence of Rush, [director Neil] Armfield, [and cast members Robyn] Nevin and [Helen] Buday.

During the verdict, Norvill closed her eyes as the judge said she was a witness prone to exaggeration and embellishment.

In the closing stages of the trial, lawyers for Nationwide News had attempted to introduce evidence from someone who became known as witness x alleging separate acts of a sexual nature against Rush.

However, the evidence was refused, and it wasnt until May when a suppression order was lifted that it was revealed witness x was the Hollywood actress Yael Stone, star of the Netflix series Orange is the New Black.

In an interview with the New York Times in December, Stone alleged that, during a 2010 Belvoir St theatre production of The Diary of a Madman, Rush held a mirror above her while she showered, danced naked in front of her and touched her back in an unwanted and very sensual manner.

Rush denied the allegation, saying in a statement issued through his lawyers at the time that the allegations were incorrect and in some instances have been taken completely out of context.

However, clearly Yael has been upset on occasion by the spirited enthusiasm I generally bring to my work, he said. I sincerely and deeply regret if I have caused her any distress. This, most certainly, has never been my intention.

When we performed in The Diary of a Madman eight years ago, I believe we engaged in a journey as artistic comrades. Over the years we have shared correspondence that always contained a mutual respect and admiration.

As I have said in the past, I abhor any behaviour that might be considered as harassment or intimidation to anyone whether in the workplace or any other environment.



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