Metro writer wins big legal case against Defence Force

by Metro / 01 October, 2015
Metro contributing writer Jon Stephenson has won his three-year legal dispute with the New Zealand Defence Force (NZDF) and its then chief, Lieutenant-General Rhys Jones.

In a statement today, Stephenson says the settlement agreement between the two parties “involves a payment as well as a retraction”.

Stephenson adds that while the sum is confidential, “I can say that I am very happy and consider the outcome a victory.” A statement from NZDF is expected shortly.

The dispute arises from a feature Stephenson wrote for Metro in our May 2011 issue, titled “Eyes Wide Shut”. The feature reported on Stephenson’s lengthy investigation of the activities of the SAS (New Zealand Special Air Service) in Afghanistan, and included allegations the SAS had acted in defiance of its obligations under the Geneva Convention.

The story won the prestigious international Bayeux-Calvados award for war correspondents in 2011, and the Canon Award in New Zealand for Investigation of the Year, in 2012.

Following publication, Lieutenant-General Jones issued a press release on behalf of NZDF disputing several parts of the feature. In particular, he claimed Stephenson had not had access to an Afghan military base in Kabul as he claimed, and had not interviewed the commander of the base, as he also claimed.

Stephenson objected to what he saw as an implication that he had lied, and in 2012 began defamation proceedings against the NZDF and Jones. The matter went to a jury trial in 2013, but the jury was unable to reach agreement.

However, after hearing evidence presented at the trial, Jones accepted that Stephenson had indeed visited the base and interviewed its commander. As part of the settlement announced today, says Stephenson, the NZDF and Jones have made it clear they do accept his version of events, and regret their statement may have called his claims into doubt.

Metro has always stood by the story and the follow-up we published in June 2011. We congratulate Stephenson for his victory and his perseverance in obtaining it. We are thrilled that the facts as set out by Stephenson in those two stories appear to be no longer in dispute.

You can read the original story here.

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