“Mr Gatto’s claim to be upset is mitigated — we submit to vanishing point — by the fact that he has cultivated, traded on, and profited for decades from friendships with many of the very worst, most violent members of Melbourne’s criminal underworld, including people he knows to be murderers and hitmen.”
“The reason for Mr Gatto’s celebrity status is perfectly clear. It’s because, fairly or unfairly, his reputation in the community — as he frankly conceded — is a very bad one.”
Earlier in the day, the court had heard testimony from Mr Gatto’s wife Cheryl and close mate, United Firefighters’ Union secretary Peter Marshall, that Mr Gatto was a “good man”, was well-received and treated in the community, and had done a significant amount of charity work.
“He takes no issue with what’s printed as long as it’s true,” said Ms Gatto. She testified her husband of 42 years had filed the defamation suit because he wanted “retribution” against the ABC for spreading falsehoods. “An apology is all he ever wanted.”
Ms Gatto said people’s positive reaction to her husband was “pretty impossible to miss”.
“It’s not uncommon for me to be handed someone’s iPhone and be politely asked to take a photo of them with my husband. There’s lots of handshakes and, ‘Mick, you’re a good bloke’.”
“He’s a good man. I’ve mentioned to him a couple of times that I think he’s more recognisable than the prime minister. I say that nicely.”
While Dr Collins did not cross-examine Ms Gatto or Mr Marshall, he later told the judge that testimony provided by Mr Gatto and his wife showed he had clearly not suffered any reputational damage.
“There is not the slightest suggestion that the ABC’s article had a skerrick of impact on Mr Gatto’s reputation. Mr Gatto’s words yesterday were: ‘I don’t see people running away from me’.
“As Mr Gatto frankly conceded: politicians, billionaires, silvertails and others do not want to be publicly associated with him because of the stain of association with someone of his reputation.”
Dr Collins also told the court the ABC had no case to answer because the story it published had accurately reported evidence given in other court proceedings.
“No part of it is misstated. The ABC did not adopt or endorse as correct the allegations … The ABC’s article was recognisable — with respect, beyond argument — as a court story.”
The trial continues on Friday.
Chris Vedelago is an investigations reporter for The Age with a special interest in crime and justice.