Brittany Higgins, Bruce Lehrmann rape trial to hear of secret recording of call with minister

Brittany Higgins, Bruce Lehrmann rape trial to hear of secret recording of call with minister 2
Advertisement

Brittany Higgins has been grilled in court over the night she was allegedly raped, including questions about whether she had vomit stains on her dress. 

Advertisement

The former Liberal staffer is the first witness in the criminal trial of Bruce Lehrmann, who she alleges sexually assaulted her in Parliament House after a boozy night out in March, 2019. Mr Lehrmann has pleaded not guilty.

On Friday morning, the fourth day of her high-profile rape trial, Ms Higgins was cross-examined by defence lawyer Steven Whybrow about what she told the Australian Federal Police during a meeting in parliament on April 1.

Advertisement

‘Do you recall telling police you had gone to a medical centre and had tests done but no results have come back?’ Mr Whybrow asked.

Ms Higgins replied:  ‘No. I had intention of going to medical centres, but the moment I left work I was collapsing. 

‘I’d been raped days before. I was somehow making it to work in the same office I’d been raped in… I was by myself.’

Brittany Higgins is pictured (in white) outside court on Friday as she arrives for day four of her rape trial against her former colleague

Brittany Higgins is pictured (in white) outside court on Friday as she arrives for day four of her rape trial against her former colleague 

Advertisement
Ms Higgins (pictured) said the phone conversation she recorded with with then-employment minister Michaelia Cash was the 'weirdest' call she had ever had.

Ms Higgins (pictured) said the phone conversation she recorded with with then-employment minister Michaelia Cash was the ‘weirdest’ call she had ever had.

Mr Whybrow continued: ‘Did you tell cops you had vomit stains all down your dress?’ 

‘I don’t recall. I was on my hands and knees on the minister’s floor and I vomited into the minister’s toilet,’ Ms Higgins replied.

Mr Whybrow asked Ms Higgins if she told police that she ‘became aware of the smell of sex?’ 

Advertisement

Ms Higgins replied: ‘Broadly accurate. I don’t remember the specific conversation, it was traumatising, but I believe those word to that effect.’

Mr Whybrow continued: ‘Might you have said to police that you had vomit stains all down your dress?’

Ms Higgins responded: ‘I had fallen over in the previous venue so I had grass stains on my dress and I vomited in the minister’s bathroom.’

Mr Whybrow then asked Ms Higgins when said she had grass stains on her dress, to which she told the court: ‘It has been widely reported I had grass stains on my dress.’

Advertisement

Ms Higgins said she could not remember whether she had vomit stains on her dress. 

When asked whether she told police during April 1 meeting that she did not want to proceed with the allegations and make a statement, Ms Higgins said: ‘I was still tossing it up. I didn’t want them to action anything yet. I’d just had a very intense conversation with Ms Reynolds and my chief of staff.’

Ms Higgins was referencing a meeting she had with former defence minister Senator Linda Reynolds and her chief-of-staff Fiona Brown in the office office where alleges she was raped by Mr Lehrmann. 

On April 9, 2019 – the day after she told detectives she did not want to make a statement – she sent a text to he former lover Ben Dillaway that said: ‘I’m not interested in pursing it but it’s all beyond strange’. 

Advertisement

Ms Higgins told the court: ‘I remember sending it. As much as I trusted and adored Ben, he was sill a senior advisor to a cabinet minister to so I didn’t trust that it wouldn’t get around. I disclosed some things to him but I didn’t trust that all my thoughts and feelings wouldn’t’ get back to liberal HQ.’

Mr Whybrow asked: ‘Do you remember deleting that message off your phone before you gave it to police?’

Ms Higgins replied: ‘Potentially. Any photo of when I was 16 and had alcohol in my hand I cleared off my phone. Just as a point – I never wanted to see Linda’s face again so I cleared photos of her. I wanted to scrub all the horrible parts of my life out. I don’t remember when I did it.’

Mr Whybrow put to Ms Higgins that she continually refused to hand her phone over to police despite being asked on several occasions in 2021.

Advertisement
Former Liberal Party staffer Bruce Lehrmann arrives at the ACT Supreme Court in Canberra on Friday

Former Liberal Party staffer Bruce Lehrmann arrives at the ACT Supreme Court in Canberra on Friday 

He suggested she had an appointment with police to hand her phone over on March 21, 2021, but she did not go to the appointment due to an ‘urgent legal matter… a defamation incident with Ms Reynolds,’ he told the court.

‘Ah yes,’ Ms Higgins replied. ‘Lying cow. I remember,’ she added, referring to reports Ms Reynolds had called her ‘a lying cow’ in February 2021.

Ms Higgins agreed that she did not hand over her phone for a number of weeks, despite being asked to, but broke down on the stand when explaining why.

Advertisement

‘I was terrified on the basis that, [on the week of May 21] I found out that the moment I reengaged with police that any politically sensitive matters that are within the remit of police gets reported to the Home Affairs minister,’ she told the court

Ms Higgins said former home affairs minister Peter Dutton had information about her allegations before she made her official police statement.

‘I was very scared,’ she told the court.

‘I was seeking legal advice to know my rights because I was terrified.’   

Advertisement

On Thursday, the court heard Ms Higgins secretly recorded a phone conversation with her former boss and then-employment minister Michaelia Cash in 2021, which she described as ‘the weirdest call of my life’.

Brittany Higgins told the court she secretly recorded a conversation with then-employment minister Michaelia Cash (pictured) in 2021

Brittany Higgins told the court she secretly recorded a conversation with then-employment minister Michaelia Cash (pictured) in 2021

Ms Higgins initially worked for Senator Reynolds, but took a job as a junior media advisor with Senator Cash after the 2019 election.

Ms Higgins, now 27, told the court under cross-examination that the senator was pretending she didn’t know about the alleged rape during the phone call – despite having spoken about it previously. 

Advertisement

‘It was ridiculous. It was the weirdest phone call I have ever had in my life,’ she said.

Mr Whybrow put to Ms Higgins on Thursday that she had sent the recording to multiple people, including journalists, to begin backgrounding for the story.

But Ms Higgins said it was for her legal protection, so she could corroborate her story.

‘I was trying to give [the recording] to as many people as possible to have them just so that they existed,’ she said. 

Advertisement

‘It’s my word against a cabinet minister’s, and the power disparity between those two is ridiculous.’ 

Ms Higgins also recorded a conversation with Senator Cash’s former chief of staff Daniel Try without his knowledge and sent it to journalist Samantha Maiden, but stated it should not be published.

During that conversation, Ms Higgins told the court the chief of staff referred to another sexual assault within the Liberals that was never reported.

The court also heard Ms Higgins recorded the conversations after a six-hour interview with Lisa Wilkinson for The Project on February 2, 2021. 

Advertisement
Brittany Higgins sent texts about the alleged rape to former lover Ben Dillaway (pictured)

Brittany Higgins sent texts about the alleged rape to former lover Ben Dillaway (pictured)

She said Ms Wilkinson and Ms Maiden were ‘fighting’ over when her story would be released. 

‘Who got the exclusive drop so that come Walkley’s time, who could claim what and so it became not even about me or my story,’ she told the court.

Ms Maiden won the Gold Walkley in 2021 – Australian journalisms highest honour, while Ms Wilkinson was awarded a Logie this year. 

Advertisement

Ms Higgins said Ms Wilkinson was ‘quite angry’ about the timing of their interview on The Project. 

Mr Whybrow put to her that she did the interview to hurt the Liberal party right before an election, but Ms Higgins said she simply wanted to talk about a ‘cultural problem’ within Parliament.

‘I thought I’d do one print and one TV and then I’d go back to uni and disappear,’ she explained.

Ms Higgins told the court The Project host was ‘quite angry’ when the interview was aired on February 15 because it was a Monday, and Ms Wilkinson did not typically work on Mondays. 

Advertisement

After both stories dropped, Ms Higgins said she was inundated with media requests. 

The court heard she prepared a timeline of events to give to police and, while she was ‘passed out on Valium’ due to the stress of the media whirlwind, her partner David Sharaz made the decision to give the timeline to two journalists.

Brittany Higgins recorded an interview with Lisa Wilkinson (pictured) for The Project in January 2021

Brittany Higgins recorded an interview with Lisa Wilkinson (pictured) for The Project in January 2021

Lisa Wilkinson (left) interviewed Brittany Higgins (right) on The Project in 2019 about her rape allegations

Lisa Wilkinson (left) interviewed Brittany Higgins (right) on The Project in 2019 about her rape allegations

Advertisement

However, she claims the timeline ended up in the hands of ‘the whole press gallery’, and that Mr Sharaz regrets his decision.

Mr Whybrow also quizzed her over a series of inconsistencies in her original testimony, including what she did with the white cocktail dress she wore on the night of the alleged assault.

Ms Higgins initially told the court she put it in a bag under her bed for six months before she ‘symbolically washed it’ and wore it once more.

However, under cross-examination it was revealed the dress was only under her bed for a matter of weeks.

Advertisement

Mr Whybrow presented Ms Higgins with a photo of her in the dress at Ms Reynolds’ birthday celebration in Perth in April 2019 – less than two months after the alleged rape.

Ms Higgins conceded to the court that she ‘was wrong’, but maintained the dress was under her bed ‘for a period of time’. 

The trial continues. 

Advertisement
Advertisement