8 October 2022

Brittany Higgins lashes suggestion by Bruce Lehrmann's barrister she committed a 'deception' to bolster rape claim

| Albert McKnight

Brittany Higgins leaves court after her cross-examination on Friday. Photo: Albert McKnight.

CONTENT WARNING: This article discusses an alleged sexual assault.

Brittany Higgins told a barrister it was “deeply insulting” for him to suggest she told the chief of staff in Defence Minister Linda Reynolds’ office she was going to see a doctor to bolster her allegation of being raped in Parliament House.

The former staffer’s cross-examination by barrister Steven Whybrow, who represents Bruce Lehrmann in his ACT Supreme Court trial which began this week, continued over Thursday and Friday (6-7 October).

The rape was alleged to have happened on 23 March 2019. Five days later, on 28 March, Ms Higgins asked her chief of staff, Fiona Brown, if she could take the next day off to see a doctor.

But Mr Whybrow said at the same time as she said she was organising the appointment, she was going to see her ex-boyfriend Ben Dillaway, even though she had claimed she was “bed-bound” around the time.

He accused Ms Higgins of committing a “deception” on Ms Brown by saying she wanted a day off to see a doctor and argued she hadn’t gone to such an appointment because she hadn’t had sex with anyone on the night of the 22 March 2019, consensual or otherwise, including Mr Lehrmann.

Mr Whybrow accused her of telling Ms Brown she wanted to see a doctor to bolster her false complaint.

“You’re so incorrect,” Ms Higgins told him. “I completely reject everything you’re saying.”

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She said seeing professionals was confronting in the wake of the alleged assault, tackling a trauma head-on was a very difficult thing to do, and Mr Dillaway was the only person she told about it at the time and he was consoling her.

She also said she intended to go to a doctor on 28 March 2019, but didn’t in the end because she wasn’t coping. She told Mr Dillaway she had gone to see one at some stage because she said she was placating him.

“I don’t know what you want from me,” she told Mr Whybrow in the heated exchange.

Chief Justice Lucy McCallum later told the 16 jurors Mr Lehrmann’s position was there hadn’t been any sex between him and Ms Higgins and the chief justice thought the central issue to the trial was whether sex had happened at all.

Bruce Lehrmann walking to court

Bruce Lehrmann arrives at court for his trial on Friday. Photo: Albert McKnight.

While being cross-examined, Ms Higgins did admit she deleted content from her phone before handing it to police for their investigation.

She said she didn’t intend to withhold information from police but was “purging” factors from her life, including scrubbing photos of her former boss Defence Minister Linda Reynolds and deleting photos of her as a teenager but denied deleting audio recordings. She said she handed over audio files on a USB instead.

Mr Whybrow suggested she deleted conversations with people from her phone, such as from a housemate. She said she didn’t recall deleting conversations from the housemate and couldn’t see any reason why she would have.

Under questioning, she said she texted only her father and Mr Dillaway over the two days after 23 March 2019 and didn’t say anything about the alleged assault then.

“No, I wasn’t ready to disclose my assault in two days,” she said.

Mr Whybrow asked if she had gone to reactivate her rape complaint with police before she spoke with The Project‘s Lisa Wilkinson on 2 February 2021, suggesting she spoke to police two days after speaking to the journalist.

“They were two avenues I went down and in my mind simultaneously,” she said, adding she did not remember the order.

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Her conversation with Ms Wilkinson ran for six hours and she agreed there were two main themes to what she alleged in the interview: what Mr Lehrmann had done and what the Liberal Party had done to dissuade her from talking about it.

Mr Whybrow asked if it was her intention to damage the government by publishing her alleged experience, but she said she “didn’t necessarily want to hurt them”.

“I loved the Liberal Party,” she said.

“I just want to speak to a cultural problem that I had gone through that was systemic in the system.”

After Ms Higgins resigned from her job as a media adviser with Senator Michaelia Cash on 29 January 2021, the senator called her and asked if there was anything she could do for her.

Brittany Higgins leaving court

Brittany Higgins (right) alleges she was raped at Parliament House. Photo: Albert McKnight.

Mr Whybrow said Ms Higgins “covertly recorded” this conversation and sent it to a friend, which Ms Higgins said was for safekeeping.

“It’s my word against a cabinet minister’s so the disparity between those two powers is ridiculous,” she said.

She claimed she’d already had many conversations with Ms Cash about her alleged rape at the time.

Ms Higgins said she thought about writing a book because she felt she needed to record her alleged experience, and Ms Wilkinson’s husband Peter FitzSimons had approached her at an event and told her to do it.

Mr FitzSimons or Ms Wilkinson contacted her on 16 March 2021 and told her a publisher was interested in her account. She agreed she was told someone would offer her $325,000 to write a book about her alleged experience.

She also admitted she had the chapters for the book planned before she sat down for her police interview on 24 February 2021.

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Ms Higgins has already said her meeting with Ms Brown on 26 March 2019 was when she first vocalised what allegedly happened to her.

Mr Whybrow suggested her subsequent meeting with Ms Brown two days later was the first time she’d alleged that Mr Lehrmann had been on top of her, but she replied she had continued to say it.

Ms Higgins claimed she contacted her father after the alleged assault and arranged for him to travel to Canberra, but under questioning from Mr Whybrow she accepted it was “absolutely a possibility” that he was already coming to see her anyway.

Mr Lehrmann has pleaded not guilty to a charge of sexual intercourse without consent. The trial is held before Chief Justice McCallum.

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