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Higgins begins ‘graphic, distressing’ evidence

LEHRMANN
Bruce Lehrmann is suing Lisa Wilkinson and Network 10. Picture: NCA NewsWire/Damian Shaw.

Brittany Higgins will give “graphic and distressing” evidence about allegations she was raped in Parliament House by Bruce Lehrmann, a court has heard.

Mr Lehrmann is suing journalist Lisa Wilkinson and Network 10 for defamation in the Federal Court over Ms Higgins’ interview with The Project which aired on February 15, 2021.

He has consistently and fervently denied Ms Higgins’ allegation that he sexually assaulted her in Senator Linda Reynolds’ office in Parliament House in the early hours of March 23, 2019.

After five days in the stand, Mr Lehrmann’s evidence to the court on Tuesday came to an end before Ms Higgins was called as Network 10’s first witness.

She arrived at court on Tuesday afternoon flanked by her partner David Sharaz and solicitor.

BRUCE LEHRMANN
Brittany Higgins arrived at the Federal Court on Tuesday afternoon. Picture: NCA NewsWire/David Swift.
BRUCE LEHRMANN
Bruce Lehrmann returns to the Federal Court on Tuesday for what will be his fifth day in witness stand. Picture: NCA NewsWire / David Swift

HIGGINS’ EVIDENCE BEGINS

During approximately five minutes of evidence, Ms Higgins told the court that she grew up on the Gold Coast before completing a university degree in communications and business.

Asked by Ten’s barrister Dr Matt Collins whether she grew up supporting the Liberal Party, Ms Higgins told the court: “I grew up in Queensland so for me that was kind of a given.”

The court heard that midway through her university degree she began working for a Gold Coast-based Queensland state MP.

And through a friend in the Young Liberals she gained employment in the Canberra office of MP Steven Ciobo in September 2018 as a front-of-house staff member and assistant media advisor.

“I wanted to work my way up through the ranks, I wanted to be a media advisor, I wanted to be a press sec,” Ms Higgins told the court.

BRUCE LEHRMANN
The court heard on Tuesday that Ms Higgins would give “graphic and distressing” evidence about the alleged sexual assault. Picture: NCA NewsWire / David Swift.

“GRAPHIC AND DISTRESSING”

During his opening address to the court on Tuesday, Dr Collins told the court that during The Project report, Ms Wilkinson referred to the man accused by Ms Higgins as a senior male advisor, a senior male colleague and a senior advisor.

He also argued that Mr Lehrmann was approached for comment before the broadcast.

“Mr Lehrmann was in fact approached a number of times,” Dr Collins said.

Dr Collins added that the program received no response, however there is a dispute about whether Mr Lehrmann ever received the producer’s questions which were sent to his personal hotmail account.

Mr Lehrmann claimed in his evidence that he did not receive the questions until a week later.

Dr Collins argued that Mr Lehrmann did not respond to the questions because he had been given advice that he was less likely to be named by The Project if he did not provide a response or statement.

Dr Collins told the court on Tuesday that Ms Higgins would give “graphic and distressing” evidence about the alleged sexual assault.

He added that Network 10 would call more than 20 witness including Ms Higgin’s friends, family and colleagues, as well as police officers.

He also said that Ms Higgins had drunks 13 vodka drinks on the evening of the alleged assault.

And Dr Collins said that he would also call expert evidence that Ms Higgins would have had a blood-alcohol concentration of 0.23 - just under five times the legal limit - that morning.

Ms Wilkinson will also give evidence.

Dr Collins added that: “We understand why Mr Lehrmann feels aggrieved”.

However he added that Mr Lehrmann’s defamation suit was “bound to fail”.

BRUCE LEHRMANN
Lisa Wilkinson and her barrister Sue Chrysanthou. Picture: NCA NewsWire/David Swift.

“MONSTROUS”

Dr Collins also attacked Mr Lehrmann’s theory that Ms Higgins invented the rape allegations in order to save her job, after seeing him packing up his belongings when he was dismissed for entering Parliament House after hours.

He described the theory as “incoherent”.

“If we’ve understood that theory correctly it is, with respect to our friends, incoherent,” Dr Collins said.

“First and foremost it would be a monstrous thing, as Ms Higgins herself will tell you, to fabricate an allegation of rape.”

Ms Wilkinson’s barrister Sue Chrysanthou told the court that she first became aware of the story on January 18, 2019 when she received an email from Ms Higgins’ partner, David Sharaz.

She said the story was compiled by “diligent, experienced professionals.”

Ms Chrysanthou told the court that the pair first spoke on January 23 during which they discussed the repercussions of going public with the allegations.

Bruce Lehrmann and Brittany Higgins at The Dock bar on the evening of the alleged incident. Picture: Seven News Spotlight.
Bruce Lehrmann and Brittany Higgins at The Dock bar on the evening of the alleged incident. Picture: Seven News Spotlight.

SEVEN PAID LEHRMANN’S RENT

In June last year, ACT Supreme Court Chief Justice Lucy McCallum delayed the start of Mr Lehrmann’s criminal trial after Ms Wilkinson gave a Logies acceptance speech referencing Ms Higgins.

Mr Lehrmann has alleged, as part of the proceedings, that the speech prejudiced his right to a fair trial.

The court heard that Mr Lehrmann took part in two interviews with Channel 7’s Spotlight Programs earlier this year.

And in return Seven paid his rent from June 2023 until June 2024, the court heard.

However, Mr Lehrmann said he wasn’t sure how much he had received by way of free accommodation.

“Network Seven handled the accommodation,” Mr Lehrmamn said.

“SAVED”

Ms Wilkinson’s barrister Sue Chrysanthou SC on Tuesday questioned Mr Lehrmann about answers he gave to journalist Liam Bartlett during his second Spotlight Interview.

The court heard that in that interview, Mr Lehrmann was asked about comments made by his solicitor Steve Whybrow that Mr Lehrmann was close to being convicted and that if it weren’t for the Logies speech delay he would have been in “more trouble”.

The court heard that in the Spotlight interview Mr Lehrmann said of the delay: “Well it afforded us the opportunity to dig deeper, go down the rabbit holes, find the golden nuggets.”

Ms Chrysanthou asked: “So what I want to suggest to you is rather than feel upset at my client … that she engaged in conduct which had a prejudicial impact on your criminal trial, you actually think that the delay caused by the Logies speech saved you from conviction.”

“No, I disagree,” Mr Lehrmann replied.

Supplied
Lisa Wilkinson giving her 2022 Logies acceptance speech. Picture: Channel 9

“JOHN’S BACKUP GUY”

Dr Collins previously read to the court texts Mr Lehrmann exchanged with his friends the night The Project aired, in which they discussed obtaining cocaine.

“The next message you were telling him to bring something with him … Was that because you decided to spend some time that night with friends and that substance,” Ten’s barrister Dr Matt Collins asked.

“Yes Dr Collins, I spiralled pretty quickly,” Mr Lehrmann told the court.

The court heard on Tuesday Mr Lehrmann sent a text message at 1.02am the following morning to a contact in his phone named “John’s backup guy”.

“Hey mate you around tonight for one?” Mr Lehrmann texted.

“Was that a drug dealer?” Dr Collins asked.

“Yes,” Mr Lehrmann said.

The court heard that just after 6.30am that morning he sent a text message to friends saying: “Have headed home gentlemen, stay safe.”

When asked by Dr Collins whether he had stayed up all night, Mr Lehrmann said: “It appeared that way.”

“Are you able to explain why your affidavit says you’ve only gone home to your residence with a couple of friends and you’ve hardly slept,” Dr Collins asked.

“My recollection Is I went home at some point, I clearly didn’t recall either going out again and coming back home.”

BRUCE LEHRMANN
Lisa Wilkinson and Bruce Lehrmann at the Federal Court on Tuesday with her lawyer Chrysanthou. Picture: NCA NewsWire / David Swift
WILKINSON
Lisa Wilkinson is defending the lawsuit. Picture: NCA NewsWire/Damian Shaw.

“HIS STUPID PARLIAMENT SPEECH”

In his opening address to the court last week, Mr Lehrmann’s barrister Matthew Richardson SC, described The Project interview as being: “Carefully edited to emphasise the emotion of the complaint, the ostentatious outrage of Ms Wilkinson, the visceral denunciation of my client as the most odious of predators.”

Mr Richardson added that the broadcast had caused Mr Lehrmann to be “publicly maligned” and portrayed as a “revolting predator”.

Asked if he stood by those claims on Tuesday, Mr Lehrmann said: “Yes.”

Mr Lehrmann also claimed in court that Ms Wilkinson’s Logies Speech prejudiced his right to a fair trial.

Ms Chrysanthou on Tuesday questioned Mr Lehrmann about Ms Higgins’ speech to the National Press Club which was broadcast on the ABC.

Mr Lehrmann previously launched defamation proceedings against the ABC over the Press Club broadcast, however the national broadcaster has settled those proceedings.

Ms Chrysanthou also questioned Mr Lehrmann about then Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s apology to Ms Higgins in parliament in February last year.

“In his stupid parliament speech,” Mr Lehrmann said in relation to Mr Morrison’s speech.

He was asked by Ms Chrysanthou: “Those things prejudiced your right to a fair trial?

“Yes,” Mr Lehrmann replied.

Bruce Lehrmann and Brittany Higgins being signed in at Parliament House. Pictures: Seven Picture.
Bruce Lehrmann and Brittany Higgins being signed in at Parliament House. Pictures: Seven Picture.

THE NOTES

On Monday, Mr Lehrmann was grilled about the conflicting versions of events he gave to various people about why he went back to Parliament House in the early hours of March 23, 2019 after drinking at several Canberra pubs, including The Dock and 88MPH.

He admitted to lying to Parliament House security that morning that he was there to pick up documents for Senator Reynolds and he later told his boss Fiona Brown that he went back there to drink alcohol.

Mr Lehrmann told the court that he went back to collect his keys and spent 30 to 40 minutes writing ministerial notes while they were fresh in his mind after being given information at The Dock.

He was grilled by Dr Collins as to why he needed to make notes early that morning when he had been drinking for several hours.

“Can you identify any information that you learned either at The Dock or 88MPH on the 22nd of March that was relevant to the work you were doing for the minister concerning question time briefs,” Dr Collins asked.

“Not now, I don’t have those folders,” Mr Lehrmann said.

Mr Lehrmann added that the information related to the “French submarine contract”.

On the stand on Monday, Mr Lehrmann admitted he was finishing up the following week, he had already completed all his work in the minister’s office and Question Time wasn’t sitting the following week.

“Mr Lehrmann, there was no need whatsoever to be writing on Question Time folders at 2am on the 23rd of March 2019,” Dr Collins asked.

“I disagree,” Mr Lehrmann said.

Bruce Lehrmann is suing over Brittany Higgins’ interview with Lisa Wilkinson on The Project.
Bruce Lehrmann is suing over Brittany Higgins’ interview with Lisa Wilkinson on The Project.

Mr Lehrmann stood trial in the ACT Supreme Court last year after pleading not guilty to one count of sexual assault.

But the trial was aborted due to juror misconduct.

The charges were subsequently dropped and no findings have been made against him. He continues to deny the allegation.

The trial before Justice Michael Lee continues on Wednesday.