20 October 2022

Brittany Higgins originally told AFP she wanted rape allegation kept 'off the record'

| Albert McKnight

Brittany Higgins, second left, leaves court during Bruce Lehrmann’s trial. Photo: Albert McKnight.

CONTENT WARNING: This article discusses an alleged sexual assault.

When Brittany Higgins first met with the Australian Federal Police soon after her alleged rape at Parliament House, she said she did not want to make an official complaint and instead wanted to keep it “off the record”.

Bruce Lehrmann is alleged to have raped Ms Higgins at Parliament House on 23 March 2019 after a drunken night out in Canberra, his ACT Supreme Court trial has heard. It is a claim he denies.

Federal Agent Katie Thelning, who worked in Parliament House at the time, met with Ms Higgins on 1 April 2019 and read out notes from their meeting to the jury on Wednesday (12 October).

She said Ms Higgins told her they had gone out for drinks.

“Bruce was sitting with me and got quite handsy. I didn’t really mind,” she said Ms Higgins told her.

Ms Higgins also said they had gone back to Parliament House. Federal Agent Rebecca Cleaves, who was also at this April meeting, said Ms Higgins told her she was surprised to arrive at the building and claimed Mr Lehrmann had asked her to “play along” when they got there.

Both Federal agents said Ms Higgins told them she had fallen asleep in Minister Linda Reynolds’ office and allegedly woke up to find Mr Lehrmann raping her.

“I felt grossed out as I could smell what had happened on me,” Agent Thelning said Ms Higgins told her.

“I put what happened away so it wouldn’t be a narrative to my life story. I am quite good at doing this.

“I do not want to report this officially, just off the record.”

Bruce Lehrmann, 27, approaches the ACT Supreme Court for his trial. Photo: Albert McKnight.

Agent Thelning said Ms Higgins appeared visibly upset during this meeting.

“She was crying, she apologised for being upset,” the Federal agent said.

She also said Ms Higgins told her she had gone to the Phillip Medical Centre to get tests done, but hadn’t received her results yet.

But when Senior Constable Emma Frizzell, who worked in the sexual assault and child abuse team, was cross-examined on Thursday (13 October), she said when she made inquiries with the medical centre she was told Ms Higgins hadn’t gone there from March 2019 onwards.

The senior constable had earlier said she was told Ms Higgins wanted to reactivate her previous report of an alleged sexual assault on 5 February 2021.

She went on to interview Ms Higgins on 24 February and 26 May 2021

The day after the first interview, on 25 February 2021, Senior Constable Frizzell said she talked to Ms Higgins over the phone while she was “quite upset”.

“Ms Higgins had referred to a media article or something that was in the media that morning in relation to Minister [Peter] Dutton,” she said.

“As a result of that she was concerned about the information flow.”

On Wednesday, senior forensic biologist with the AFP Jennifer Stone said her lab was given the white dress Ms Higgins had worn on the night of her alleged rape in February 2021. By then, it had been washed.

Ms Stone saw grass stains on Ms Higgins’ dress, but found no semen despite several tests.

Crown prosecutor Skye Jerome asked if she could say if semen had been on the dress before it was washed.

Ms Stone said it was possible it had been and had washed away, but it was very difficult to find semen after something had been washed.

“In this situation, semen was not detected on the item,” she said.

The trial, in which 27-year-old Mr Lehrmann has pleaded not guilty to a charge of sexual intercourse without consent, continues before Chief Justice Lucy McCallum.

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