Geoffrey Rush’s repeated touching made actor ‘uncomfortable’, court told
Actor’s lawyer in defamation trial says allegation of inappropriate touching ‘completely opaque’
The court heard that Rush touched his cast-mate in a manner that made her feel uncomfortable. Photograph: Getty
Australian actor Geoffrey Rush repeatedly touched a female cast member “in a way that made her feel uncomfortable” during a 2015 production of King Lear despite being asked to stop, a Sydney court has heard.
The actor is suing the News Corp subsidiary Nationwide News and journalist Jonathon Moran for defamation over articles published by the Daily Telegraph in November and December last year that reported on alleged “inappropriate touching” of a female colleague during the Sydney Theatre Company production.
Rush denies the allegations and in a statement of claim lodged with the federal court argues that Australian newspaper the Daily Telegraph made him out to be a “pervert” and a “sexual predator” who had “committed sexual assault”. He has labelled the allegations “spurious claims with bombastic titles”.
In a court hearing on Monday his barrister, Richard McHugh SC, sought to have large sections of News Corp’s defence thrown out, partly on the basis that it failed to lay out specific accusations against Rush.
In a previous hearing Mr McHugh argued that the defence contained “scandalous” information amounting to “rumours” that would do further damage to Rush’s reputation.
On Monday he said the allegation of “inappropriate touching” made against Rush was “completely opaque” and would make it impossible for Rush to defend himself.
“To this day it’s not clear what they’re saying,” he said. “Not just unclear, it’s completely opaque.
“What would Mr Rush say in the witness box about that?
“He would get into the witness box and say, ‘I didn’t do it. I don’t know what it is [but] I didn’t do it.’”
Justice Michael Whitney reserved judgment on the validity of the defence and a subpoena issued by News Corp seeking access to Sydney Theatre Company but he did lift a confidentiality order suppressing the News Corp defence, arguing that the principle of open justice outweighed any risk of further damage to Rush’s character.
During the hearing lawyers for News Corp laid out some of the allegations against Rush, arguing that he acted in a “completely inappropriate” manner in a workplace during the production.
The court heard that Rush touched his cast-mate in a manner that made her feel uncomfortable while carrying her on stage in front of an audience of hundreds of people and that the alleged conduct occurred on five occasions during the final week of the Sydney Theatre Company production
“She said stop [and] he didn’t, he went on doing it,” the barrister for News Corp, Tom Blackburn SC, said. “Our case is that in itself is inappropriate. If you touch someone out of the blue in a workplace situation . . . in a way that makes the person feel uncomfortable and the person says ‘please stop this’ and you don’t stop, that in itself is inappropriate conduct.”
Mr McHugh said the argument that the touching was inappropriate because Rush was allegedly asked to stop was flawed because he was required to touch the woman as part of the conditions of the workplace.
He also disputed whether Rush knew what it was he was being asked to stop.
“What is it my client was told to stop, and what was he supposed to do differently?” Mr McHugh said. “My client is carrying the complainant. They must be touching. What is it that is new about the touching?”
The Daily Telegraph articles were published in November and December last year after the Sydney Theatre Company released a statement to the newspaper saying it had received a complaint against Rush from someone who accused him of “inappropriate behaviour” during the company’s staging of William Shakespeare’s King Lear two years earlier.
The Daily Telegraph led its front page with the story on 30 November with the headline “King Leer”.
A second article published on December 1st with the headline “We’re with you: theatre cast back accuser as Rush denies ‘touching’” contained a denial from Rush that he “inappropriately touched” a female cast member on the production. – Guardian Service