Shock jock Alan Jones in court crosshairs
THROUGHOUT his radio career Alan Jones has been the inquisitor, the person asking the tough questions and sharing his strong views with a nationwide audience.
But it is the radio shock jock's own words that will bring him before Brisbane's Supreme Court today, defending himself against defamation allegations.
On April 30, the first day of the judge-only trial, brought on by four of Toowoomba's well-known Wagner family, Jones sat silent and stony-faced in the back of courtroom five.
Outside court, the usually voluble Jones told media his legal team had effectively gagged him.
"I've got no comment to make. I normally do have a few, but I've been told by my people to say nothing, so this day I'm doing as I'm told," he said.
Today, "Australia's most influential broadcaster'', the star witness in the case, will finally have his say, as he takes to the witness stand in the third week of the defamation trial.
Denis, John, Neill and Joe Wagner have sued Jones, Radio 4BC Brisbane, Jones's employer Harbour Radio and journalist Nick Cater over comments in 32 radio broadcasts.
They claim there were 98 defamatory imputations in Jones's broadcasts and in a Sky News show, in 2014 and 2015.
The case mainly concerns Jones's allegations that the collapse of a bund at the brothers' quarry was linked to the deaths of the 12 people at Grantham.
He also alleged they built Wellcamp Airport in Toowoomba without legal approvals and stole airspace from the Federal Government.
Leading Sydney defamation silk, Tom Blackburn SC, has told the court Jones claimed the Wagners were "cruel, selfish and lawless people, who pursued their goals through corruption, cronyism and intimidation''.
Over the last three weeks there have been tears from some of the Wagners as each brother and two wives talked about the effect of Jones's broadcasts on them and
And there have been a couple of bombshells.
Counsel for Jones, experienced defamation silk Rob Anderson QC, revealed the Wagners' total damages claim against the defendants had been increased to $4.8 million.
If successful, it would exceed the record $4.5 million Bauer Media was ordered to pay Rebel Wilson in defamation damages last year.
On the fifth day of the trial, Blackburn revealed a sensational email exchange between Jones and Qantas chief executive Alan Joyce, obtained under subpoenas.
Jones had accused Wagners of bribing Joyce to get Qantas to fly out of their privately-built Wellcamp Airport in Toowoomba, a claim strongly denied.
The distinctive voice of "perhaps the best known and most influential radio broadcaster in the country'' has boomed out from courtroom speakers, as his broadcasts were replayed. In one, Jones told listeners the Wagner brothers "knew only two things, self interest and greed'' and in another he asked: "What kind of selfish, insensitive grubs are these people?''
Jones, who grew up near Toowoomba, accused the Wagners of causing or being culpable for 12 Grantham flood deaths, after a bund at their quarry collapsed, releasing a torrent of water.
Two commissions of inquiry into the floods did not support that conclusion.
The Wagners also complain that Jones falsely said they had engaged in a high level cover up with politicians over the floods and their airport was approved by corruption involving State and Federal politicians.
Just before the trial, Jones abandoned a defence of truth in the allegations of a high-level cover up with politicians and a defence of statutory qualified privilege.
The Wagner brothers, who have built a multimillion-dollar business empire around construction materials and mining services, have had to lay bare their private lives
John Wagner, who said Jones had called him a murderer on national radio, said: "We could just see our reputation going out the window at a rate of knots and there was nothing we could do about it.''
John revealed he had turned down an offer to go on Jones's Radio 2GB program. What chance would a former truck driver have against the biggest orator in the country, the man who controlled the microphone, he said.
Denis Wagner told the court he was "gutted'' by Jones's critical broadcasts. He claimed "tens of thousands of people'' had spoken to him about the later broadcasts, which he said were often "quite vicious''.
Neill Wagner choked on tears as he told how his wife of 23 years asked him about the Grantham flood broadcasts: "What have you blokes done here?''
Joe Wagner's wife Helen cried as she revealed how she had sometimes pretended not to be a Wagner, because of public comments over the Jones broadcasts. Joe Wagner also shed tears while telling how his daughter in Year 12 had been physically and verbally abused for being a Wagner.
Jones, who has tackled many controversial political issues, will be trying to avoid a damages payout that could affect him as shareholder owner in his radio station.
The first of 27 defence witnesses, his defences for each broadcast vary but include that what he said was substantially true, honest opinion and partly what was in the public narrative.