CONTENT WARNING: This article discusses an alleged sexual assault.
Jurors have heard Brittany Higgins allege that after she went into a government minister’s office in Parliament House with Bruce Lehrmann, she fell asleep and her next memory was “being on the couch and he was raping me”.
“I was stuck in the corner and I couldn’t get him off me,” she said in an interview with police.
“I was crying throughout the entire process. I said ‘no’ at least half a dozen times.
“Eventually he stopped, it finished … and he looked at me and he left. I couldn’t get up off the couch and passed out until the next day.”
Her interview, recorded on 24 February 2021, was played to jurors when Mr Lehrmann’s trial started on Tuesday (4 October).
In it, she also said she went home after she left Parliament House and spent the weekend “bunkered down, essentially in hysterics, crying”.
Ms Higgins, who was in court over an audio-visual link, could be seen in tears after the recording had been played.
When opening the Crown’s case in the ACT Supreme Court, the Director of Public Prosecutions Shane Drumgold SC said it was the early hours of 23 March 2019 and the two staffers had been heading home from a drunken night out when they stopped at Parliament House.
Ms Higgins fell asleep on a lounge in the office of then-Home Affairs Assistant Minister Linda Reynold before she allegedly woke up to find herself being raped by Mr Lehrmann.
Mr Drumgold said a security guard was expected to say Mr Lehrmann was later seen leaving the building while appearing to be in a hurry. Ms Higgins fell asleep again until she was roused by a guard at around 9 am.
Later in the day, she was texting a friend who asked if she and Mr Lehrmann had hooked up or if she was allegedly taken advantage of in the office.
“I really don’t feel like it was consensual at all,” she said.
“If he thought it was okay, why did he leave like that?”
Mr Drumgold said the staffers were part of a group that had met up in Kingston on the night of 22 March 2019 for a gathering held because there was a sense the incumbent government was going to lose the upcoming election.
Ms Higgins had numerous drinks there before heading to a nightclub in Civic and was expected to say she was “as drunk as she’s ever been in her life”, he said.
She claimed Mr Lehrmann suggested they catch a taxi home together while also saying something like he had to stop at Parliament House to pick something up for work.
Mr Drumgold alleged Mr Lehrmann gave the first of varying versions why he had travelled there when they arrived at about 1:40 am, telling security guards, “we’ve been requested to pick up some documents”, and he didn’t have his pass to access the building.
Mr Lehrmann signed into the building for himself and Ms Higgins, who described herself as “falling all over the place” because she was so drunk.
A guard escorted them to Ms Reynold’s office, for whom Mr Lehrmann worked at the time, at almost 2 am before returning to their duties.
Mr Lehrmann left around 2:30 am, then a security guard went to check on Ms Higgins at about 4 am and claimed to see her lying naked on the office lounge, asleep.
Mr Drumgold said he later told Ms Reynolds’ chief of staff he had gone there to drink whiskey.
Also, he said that when Mr Lehrmann was interviewed by police on 19 April 2021, he gave two reasons why he entered Parliament House that night.
He claimed to have left the keys to his apartment there, while he also said when he talked to staff from the Defence Ministry during the gathering that night, they reminded him he needed to go to the office to do some work.
Mr Drumgold said it would be very unlikely he wouldn’t take his keys when leaving work but not his pass and alleged the second reason was a lie.
Barrister Steven Whybrow, appearing for Mr Lehrmann, quoted Mark Twain in his opening comments: “Never let the truth get in the way of a good story”.
“This case, you will see, is the epitome of that phrase,” Mr Whybrow told the 16 jurors.
“The Australian public has been sold a pup with this story. There has been a story out there which is not true.”
He said the interviews Ms Higgins gave police occurred against the backdrop of a “massive media story” and that on the day The Project aired an interview with her and journalist Lisa Wilkinson, 15 February 2021, no formal complaint had been made.
He said after Ms Higgins’ partner David Sharaz contacted Ms Wilkinson in January 2021 and told her there was a story she’d be interested in about a young woman allegedly being sexually assaulted in Parliament House, the “snowball” started and it couldn’t be stopped by the fact the allegations were not actually true.
Mr Whybrow claimed what Ms Higgins alleged had not happened and suggested jurors would find “massive inconsistencies and holes” in the versions she gave to police.
“The issue in this case, when it’s boiled down, is the credibility and the reliability of Ms Higgins,” he said.
Mr Lehrmann has pleaded not guilty to a charge of sexual intercourse without consent.
The trial, held before Chief Justice Lucy McCallum, is expected to last up to six weeks.