Craig McLachlan drops defamation lawsuit against ABC, Fairfax and Christie Whelan Browne

Actor Craig McLachlan cited his sanity and the pressure of the trial when he unexpectedly dropped a sexual assault and harassment defamation case against him.

After the shock hit, the former colleague whom McLachlan had sued, Christie Whelan Browne, said on Friday she had been significantly traumatized by having her name dragged through the mud.

“I received multiple threats and constant abuse and it continues to this day,” Whelan Browne said in a statement.

McLachlan dropped his case two weeks into the trial in the New South Wales Supreme Court and as witnesses were due to testify in the case against him.

He had sued the ABC, Fairfax and Whelan Browne over January 2018 posts claiming he harassed female performers in the 2014 stage production of the rocky horror show.

His case ended Thursday and the defense was scheduled to start Friday.

But Acting Judge Carolyn Simpson instead released the jury after learning the actor was not pursuing the case.

The award-winning performer has been accused of touching, kissing and groping actors without permission in the stage production of Rocky Horror, Neighbours, City Homicide and Doctor Blake Mysteries.

In his testimony, he admitted to bringing sexual jokes and pranks to The Rocky Horror Show, including deep-throating bananas, pretending to masturbate crew members’ arms, kissing and grabbing them.

His lawyer spoke about the “comradeship” on the show and how the actors handle stress differently than in other workplaces. The actor denied the allegations made in the publications.

McLachlan and his partner, who had attended the trial daily, were not in court when his case was dropped.

But in a statement he later said the pressure the case had placed on him and his family had been utterly overwhelming.

“I can’t keep putting my family under this pressure, and my own mental health won’t withstand the continued pressure,” he said.

“Ending the case now will finally end the four years we have endured since the first publications were published, while avoiding further witnesses having to go through the process of cross-examination.”

In her statement, Whelan Browne said she and other women have come forward so others won’t have to endure the same behavior as during the 2014 production.

“I was then singled out and sued for defamation,” she said.

“My name was dragged through the mud and my character and my own behavior exaggerated and questioned. I had thought that kind of shame was a thing of the past, but I was wrong.

“The past four and a half years have greatly traumatized me and other brave women who have spoken out then and since.”

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During the trial, McLachlan’s partner Vanessa Scammell testified that her husband had been ‘sucked up’ by the articles and had become a recluse who was afraid to answer the phone and would surf at night to avoid being seen.

His lawyer said the case involved a “double-pronged attack launched against him by two powerful media outlets”.

The outlets had defended the allegations based on the truth.

Their attorney told the jury that 11 women had to allege misconduct by McLachlan during the production of Rocky Horror and other television and theater shows.

In 2020, a Melbourne magistrate cleared McLachlan of indecently assaulting women on The Rocky Horror Show, but described the actor as an unimpressive witness.

He was acquitted of seven counts of indecent assault and six common assault charges against four women while the musical was on tour in Australia.

The magistrate described McLachlan’s accusers as brave and honest, but that was not enough to prove the incidents constituted an assault.

In his Friday statement, McLachlan referenced his acquittal in the criminal trial.

“I look forward to getting my health back and spending more time with my friends and family who have supported me through this process,” he said.

  • In Australia, the Lifeline crisis helpline is 13 11 14. In the UK and Ireland, Samaritans can be contacted on 116 123

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