Justice Michael Wigney handed down his judgment this afternoon after the Academy Award-winner sued The Daily Telegraph and its journalist Jonathon Moran over the claims.
The stories, published at the end of 2017, related to a complaint about his behaviour made by an actress he worked with during the Sydney Theatre Company’s production of King Lear in 2015 and 2016.
It was alleged that Rush, 67, was improper in his interactions with Eryn Jean Norvill.
Justice Wigney ruled that the stories in question conveyed a range of serious imputations and that the newspaper and journalist’s truth defence had not been established.
Norville’s evidence was not credible, he ruled, nor was that of fellow actor Mark Leonard Winter, who also testified in court.
“I have found that (the newspaper and journalist)… have not discharged their onus of proving the substantial truth of the… articles in question,” Justice Wigney said.
“I was not ultimately persuaded that Ms Norvill was an entirely credible witness,” Justice Wigney said.
He said her “evidence was inconsistent with statements she gave to journalists about what it was like working with Mr Rush, including that she loved his ebullience, and loved working with him”.
Justice Wigney said her evidence demonstrated that she was “prone to exaggeration and embellishment”.
At the trial, Rush denied calling Norvill “yummy and scrumptious”, making lewd gestures towards her and deliberately grabbing her breast during a scene.
And he insisted a text message he sent to her was meant as a joke.
“I was thinking of you, as I do, more than is socially appropriate”, Rush wrote, followed by an winking and tongue-poking emoji.
Rush had denied all allegations of wrongdoing during his time at the STC and in the wake of the stories, he sued.
Justice Wigney found that two stories had conveyed defamatory imputations about Rush and that The Daily Telegraph and Moran had failed to demonstrate they were substantially true.
“This is a sad and unfortunate case,” Justice Wigney said as he opened his remarks.
It would have been preferable for all involved if matters were dealt with away from the adversarial nature of defamation proceedings, he said.
He said that the first report, a November 30 front page, reproduced “striking if not somewhat haunting” portrait of Rush as King Lear, with the headline “King Leer”.
In his judgment, Justice Wigney ruled the story conveyed four defamatory imputations.
“I concluded that the ordinary, reasonable reader… would have read the articles as imputing or implying the meanings that Mr Rush alleged they did.”
A follow-up story on December 1, which was also subject to the complaint, was also ruled defamatory, Justice Wigney said.
“I have found on the balance of probabilities that each of the imputations was conveyed.”
Justice Wigney said he had not been swayed that the claims were credible or convincing, and therefore could not be proven substantially true.
Justice Wigney said Rush had argued the reporting led to “hatred, ridicule and contempt” and that his reputation had been damaged and caused loss “running into the millions of dollars”.
Nationwide News was pleading a defence of truth.
The Daily Telegraph is published by News Corp Australia, which also publishes news.com.au
More to come