Journalist grilled over Grantham letter
CLAIMS veteran journalist Nick Cater ignored contradictory eyewitness accounts about a wall of water that flooded Grantham have emerged in the defamation trial involving Alan Jones and the Wagner family.
The journalistic integrity of The Australian columnist was this morning brought into question under cross-examination by the Wagner's barrister Tom Blackburn QC in the Brisbane Supreme Court.
Mr Blackburn referred to a letter Cater had written to the radio shock jock, after independently investigating the flooding at Grantham.
The letter detailed an eyewitness account of a man named Graham Besley who said: "I saw a wall of water coming overland and I turned and ran".
Cater told the court he wrote to Jones because he was "trying to inform what he said" and "thought it was a good thing to do".
Mr Blackburn argued Cater failed to disclose in several stories and the letter to Jones that Mr Besley told him the wall of water came from upstream, behind the Wagner's quarry.
The key issue in the case has been allegations the water that flooded the town came from quarry.
Mr Cater admitted under cross-examination, he considered the evidence of Mr Besley unreliable, but still provided Jones with details of the man's account.
"What you didn't do in this case was supply Mr Jones with the truth … the whole truth," Mr Blackburn said.
Cater replied: "I absolutely disagree with that. The truth means you filter out the truth that is unreliable. In this case, I had numerous sources of evidence of what happened on that day … It's not just putting through, unfiltered, everything you hear."
Cater later said: "They didn't just see the water, they got tossed around in it. Some people lost their lives, Mr Blackburn."
The long-time journalist conceded that while he had visited the property before speaking to Mr Besley on the phone, he never contacted him again to clarify his conflicting account.
Cater told the court he considered Mr Besley's evidence that the wall of water had come from upstream, behind the quarry, unreliable as there was no vantage point to that area from the property.
"Mr Besley was clearly confused, in my view, about where the water had come from," Cater said.
" … I didn't pursue it because it was unreliable, because it was at the end of a phone line with a person I'd never met and I didn't think there was much more I could do with it."
Cater also said Mr Besley's evidence contradicted numerous other eyewitness accounts.
"You didn't tell Mr Jones what Mr Besley had said because it would blow your theory out of the water, it would cast great doubt on your theory," Mr Blackburn suggested.
"I didn't pass that on … because I didn't regard that part of Mr Besley's evidence as reliable. I don't agree it would blow my theory out of the water because there was very little else, if anything else, that would corroborate his memory of that moment," Cater replied.
Cater is being sued alongside Alan Jones by the prominent Queensland family for $4.8 million over allegedly defamatory imputations that claimed the family were responsible for the deaths of 12 people during the 2011 floods in the Lockyer Valley town.
Radio 4BC and Harbour Radio are also party to the action.
Brisbane Supreme Court trial that has entered its fourth week and continues.