17 Jul 2013

Jury begins deliberations in defamation case

9:53 pm on 17 July 2013

A jury hearing a defamation trial brought against the Defence Force has retired for the night and will resume deliberations on Thursday.

Freelance journalist Jon Stephenson has taken the case against the Defence Force and its chief, Lieutenant-General Rhys Jones.

Mr Stephenson says a Defence Force news release responding to an article he wrote about his visit to a base in Afghanistan implied that he had lied about going there.

In his closing address at the Wellington High Court on Wednesday, Mr Stephenson's lawyer Davey Salmon said the Defence Force was careless in the way it responded to the article.

Mr Salmon said the Defence Force had relied on information from an Afghan man with a reputation for dishonesty over someone with a reputation for careful investigative journalism.

He said the Defence Force's statement was partly a hatchet job on Mr Stephenson and partly a bid to avoid an inquiry into actions taken by New Zealand soldiers overseas.

Defence Force lawyer Hugh Rennie said the issue the jury has to decide has nothing to do with whether Jon Stephenson was unhappy or distressed or angry.

Mr Rennie said the case is about whether anyone reading the Defence Force statement would think that it ridiculed him or impaired his reputation.

Mr Stephenson is seeking $500,000 in damages, but Mr Rennie said his career has not been damaged by the Defence Force statement - and if anything is to be paid to him, it shouldn't be more than $10.

The jury began its deliberations on Thursday afternoon.