Geoffrey Rush: Sydney newspaper loses appeal over defamation payout

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Geoffrey Rush won a defamation case against The Daily Telegraph last year

An Australian newspaper has lost its appeal against a record defamation payout awarded to actor Geoffrey Rush.

Mr Rush was awarded A$2.9m (£1.57m; US$1.99m) last April after winning his case against Nationwide News, a publisher owned by Rupert Murdoch.

Its newspaper, Sydney’s Daily Telegraph, had run stories accusing Mr Rush of behaving inappropriately towards a former theatre co-star.

The publisher lost its appeal against the judgement and the size of payout.

Lawyers for Nationwide News had argued the payout – the largest ever awarded to a single person in Australia – was “manifestly excessive”.

But three Federal Court judges ruled the sum was “appropriate high” given the “extremely serious” allegations and the harm caused to Mr Rush’s reputation.

The original front page story carried the headline “King Leer” and detailed accusations from a 2015 Sydney Theatre Company production of King Lear.

It alleged Mr Rush had acted inappropriately towards a co-star, later revealed to be actress Eryn Jean Norvill.

The Federal Court agreed with the original trial judge’s assessment that Ms Norvill was “prone to exaggeration” and that her evidence was “inconsistent”.

In doing so, it rejected the publisher’s arguments that the story should be protected from defamation proceedings because the allegations were “substantially true”.

Mr Rush was awarded A$850,000 for general and aggravated damages plus more than A$1m for past economic losses, A$919,678 in future economic losses and A$42,000 in interest.