A barrister who is suing A Current Affair over its reporting of a prized cavoodle custody dispute was “shattered” after film crews “ambushed” her while walking the beloved dog, a court has been told.
Friends and accomplices of Gina Edwards, a decorated Sydney barrister, gave evidence of how her personality changed following the reports in mid-2021.
The broadcasts centred on a custody dispute involving an Insta-famous cavoodle called Oscar, who was looked after by Ms Edwards, her husband Ken Flavell and a friend, Mark Gillespie, as part of a shared custody arrangement.
Ms Edwards is suing A Current Affair and one of its journalists, Steve Marshall, over two broadcasts she claims falsely implied she was a thief who stole Oscar.
She also claims they falsely implied she exploited the dog for financial benefit and “deliberately” attempted to delay civil court cases.
Ms Edwards wants the stories removed from the internet and the archives, as well as payment for the damage incurred.
Nine has denied defaming Ms Edwards, saying the imputations of theft and stealing were not conveyed.
On Tuesday, Valerie Roach said she considered Ms Edwards “warm, hospitable and very generous” before the broadcast.
The court was told the cavoodle would stay with Mr Gillespie’s extended family in Wingello – in the Southern Highlands of NSW – while he was away “for months and months” for work.
Ms Roach said every five to six weeks she would help ferry Oscar between Sydney and Wingello due to Mr Gillespie’s contract being extended, the court was told.
She said the cavoodle always appeared well-groomed while staying with Ms Edwards but when she picked him up, he looked “fairly scrappy” and thinner.
“It was obvious when I brought it home to them (Ms Edwards and Mr Flavell),” she said.
In cross-examination, Mr Sibtain quizzed her on her observations of Oscar, including the dog’s weight being in an “acceptable” range.
“I’m not a vet, I can’t comment on that,” Ms Roach replied.
On Monday, Ms Edwards’ barrister Sue Chrysanthou SC said the program “lied” by making the scenario look like a coincidence, when Mr Marshall and Mr Gillespie had in fact been staking out Ms Edwards at her house for hours earlier.
On the day the confrontation was filmed, Ms Roach gave evidence a distressed Ms Edwards phoned her and said: “Mark has Oscar”.
“I lunged at Oscar … I ended up with a starring role in this broadcast,” she said.
Ms Roach said the barrister was “absolutely shattered” – appearing pale, shaky and “simultaneously frozen on the spot”.
“She said she felt embarrassed, humiliated … very, very upset,” Ms Roach said.
“She was so confident beforehand in any situation, but now if anyone comes up too close or comes up behind her it makes her feel physically sick and very frightened.
Uniting Church reverend James Aaron also gave evidence, recalling Mr Gillespie talking about a “co-parenting” arrangement with Oscar at a Halloween event.
He said he never heard Mr Gillespie refer to Ms Edwards and her husband as “dog-sitters” while they were at events like barbecues and holiday celebrations together.
He said he only became aware of the dispute surrounding Oscar’s care in mid-2019.
“I came to Gina’s house, she and Ken were upset,” Mr Aaron said.
“I heard her say she felt threatened by Mark, that he had lost his temper … she had said he was jealous of how much Oscar had loved her and how he had consistently hung around her and Ken when they were together.
Mr Gillespie was “frustrated” with Ms Edwards and the level of communication between the trio but he did not “extrapolate” much else, Mr Aaron said.
Mr Aaron said gave evidence he also took Oscar down to Wingello at times, noticing he returned at times with “tattered fur” and was skinnier.
“He was really excited to come with us – I don’t know if it was because he missed Gina, but I didn’t feel comfortable with how he was being treated,” Mr Aaron said.
The hearing continues.