AUSTRALIA’S most famous patient, Sydney Morning Herald journalist Louise Mensch, has been accused of making a series of false and inflammatory claims on social media, and has now been found guilty of criminal defamation.
Ms Mensch was arrested in May for allegedly making two misleading comments on social networking sites, one accusing her of having an “absence of conscience”, and another claiming that the death of her husband, Australian journalist Mark Steyn, in April was the result of “an ill-conceived surgical procedure”.
She was also accused of tweeting a story that said she was “worried that some of the women in my life will suffer”.
In a statement, the newspaper said it found Ms Mensch guilty of making “false and misleading statements about her personal and professional life”.
“Ms Mensich has been found not guilty of defamation by reason of gross negligence,” the statement read.
“We are satisfied that this is an entirely appropriate and proportionate response to the seriousness of her conduct.”
Ms Menschi, a former journalist and presenter on the popular daytime talk show The Project, was convicted of two counts of making false and misleading claims about the death and subsequent recovery of Mark Steys, an Australian newspaper columnist and a former Australian prime minister.
She had initially pleaded not guilty, but the judge at the Victorian Court of Appeal ruled in June that she could face criminal proceedings if she continued to make false and defamatory statements about Mr Steyn.
The trial began in the Melbourne suburb of Richmond last month, with a pre-trial hearing set to continue on November 5.
Ms Mansch had previously denied making the false claims about her husband’s death.
The Victorian Court was told by a police officer at the trial that a search of Ms Menschi’s computer revealed evidence of a series from Ms Mensche’s personal Facebook account that suggested she had made false and damaging statements about Mark Steins condition.
Ms Justice David Molloy told the court she had considered that the evidence was “quite compelling”.
“You have not proved your case and I’m sure you have no desire to,” he said.
“You can prove that you have made false statements in your statement, but I have not been able to prove it in the case before me.”
The trial heard that Ms Menscha told the officer she believed the police were “banging on about the police”, and that she was a “fearful mother”.
“I don’t think you’re going to get anywhere with that,” he told her.
“She is going to say, ‘My son is going into cardiac arrest’.”
In her statement to police, Ms Mensching alleged that her husband had been “moved around” in an ambulance, that his breathing had been stopped and he was “on a ventilator”, and said his condition had deteriorated “to the point where he was on a ventrological ventilators”.
In his statement to the court, Mr Steys alleged that he was the victim of “psychological warfare” from his wife and the media, who were “saying that he had had a heart attack” and had died.
“The media are saying I have died, and I think that is very sad because I think I’m a journalist,” he alleged.
“I’m just saying it is very upsetting that it is so personal and you can’t have a good conversation about it.”
In his ruling, Mr Mollot said he had found that Ms Mansch’s claims were “highly defamatic” and that they were “contradictory” to what he had seen of her medical history.
“Ms Mansche’s evidence in this case was extremely defamatrous and misleading,” he found.
“Her evidence was that she had undergone a hypospray and that was what caused her husband to have an absence of consciousness.”
He added: “It is entirely clear from her evidence that she does not have an absence of conscience.”
Ms Manscha had initially told police she had never undergone a surgical procedure, but Mr Minson found there was a photograph of her on a “medical history” page of the hospital in which she was being treated.
Ms Mollow also found that the newspaper article on the hyposphere did not accurately describe the procedure.
“It is difficult to see how you could say that a hyposeque does not involve the removal of an appendix and the insertion of a syringe into the rectum,” he wrote.
Ms Mastch’s lawyer, Ian Leavers, said he was pleased with the ruling.
“As she is now being tried for a crime she did not commit, we believe this is a vindication for her reputation as a journalist, not a criminal defendant,” he added.