Alan Jones says his opinions about the Wagner family’s role in the floods were “honestly held”. (ABC News: Allyson Horn)
Radio broadcaster Alan Jones has fought back tears as he defended himself at a defamation trial about his comments on the cause of the Grantham floods, saying his opinions were “honestly” held.
Mr Jones is being sued in the Supreme Court in Brisbane by four members of the prominent Wagner family, who claim they were defamed when the broadcaster implied they were responsible for the deaths of 12 people in Grantham, when a wall of a quarry they owned collapsed during flooding in 2011.
Four members of the Wagner family are seeking $4.8 million in damages, which would represent the largest defamation payout in Australian history. (ABC News: Allyson Horn)
The allegations were made in 32 broadcasts aired on radio between 2014 and August 2015.
Mr Jones’ employer Harbour Radio, along with 4BC and journalist Nicholas Cater are also being sued.
Mr Jones was giving evidence at the trial about his interactions with families impacted by the floods, when he choked up and had to stop briefly to compose himself.
His lawyer, Robert Anderson, asked his client about the broadcasts and whether “those opinions where honestly held by you?”
“They were,” Mr Jones told the court.
The broadcaster told the court he received calls from a number of Grantham residents who believed a bund from the Wagner-owned quarry was responsible for exaggerating the effects of the floods.
“They all told the same story,” Mr Jones said.
“These people would cry when they met me and they really felt they were abandoned and I really tried to give them a pillar of hope.
“It seemed impossible to believe that 12 people had lost their lives in six homes and we still didn’t know how and there’s no resolution.
“I became a bit of a pivotal point for people who wanted to have their point of view heard.”
Mr Jones also gave evidence he was passionate about the issue, because he was born and raised on the Darling Downs.
“This was the single greatest cause of death in any one environment in the history of the Queensland floods,” he said.
“These people had no answers as to how this happened.
“I felt that was a story the nation would empathise with.”
Four members of the Wagner family are seeking $4.8 million in damages, which would represent the largest defamation payout in Australian history.
The court had previously heard the Grantham Floods Commission of Inquiry in 2015 exonerated the Wagner family over the deadly 2011 floods.
The trial is being heard in front of only a judge.