9 December 2022

Police handling of Lehrmann case referred to integrity body a month ago

| Claire Fenwicke

A scathing letter about ACT Policing’s handling of the Lehrmann case from ACT DPP Shane Drumgold SC (pictured) to ACT Policing Chief Police Officer Neil Gaughan has been released under Freedom of Information laws. Photo: Claire Fenwicke.

It’s been revealed an inquiry could soon be launched into the handling of the recently abandoned case against Bruce Lehrmann.

It follows the revelation ACT DPP Shane Drumgold SC wrote to ACT Policing’s Chief Police Officer Neil Gaughan on 1 November, slamming how police handled the case and the gathering of evidence.

A spokesperson from ACT Attorney-General Shane Rattenbury’s office confirmed the matter had been referred to the Australian Commission for Law Enforcement Integrity (ACLEI) last month.

“As such, it is not appropriate to comment further at this time,” they said.

No further comment was given regarding the exact scope of the complaint or the investigation, nor who referred it.

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An ACLEI spokesperson confirmed “information has been referred” to the integrity body, and that an assessment into that information was underway.

“We can confirm information has been referred to ACLEI relating to the AFP investigation of and recent criminal proceedings against Mr Lehrmann,” they said.

“We are aware of a letter sent by DPP Shane Drumgold to CPO Neil Gaughan.

“The referral is under assessment and as such it would not be appropriate to make any further comment at this time.”

In the letter released under Freedom of Information legislation and first reported by The Guardian, Mr Drumgold alleged police officers engaged in a “very clear campaign to pressure” him not to prosecute Brittany Higgins’ allegations against Mr Lehrmann and that he felt investigators “clearly aligned with the successful defence of this matter” during the trial.

It also alleged Ms Higgins felt bullied by police and that she ended up communicating with officers through the ACT Victims of Crime Commissioner Heidi Yates.

“Key AFP members have had a strong desire for this matter not to proceed to charge,” Mr Drumgold alleged.

“Then when charges resulted, the [investigators’] interests have clearly aligned with the successful defence of this matter rather than its prosecution.

“There has now been over one-and-a-half years of consistent and inappropriate interference by investigators, firstly directed towards my independence with a very clear campaign to pressure me to agree with the investigators’ desire not to charge, then during the conduct of this trial itself, and finally attempting to influence any decision on a retrial.”

Mr Drumgold told Mr Gaughan he wanted a full public inquiry into the matter to examine “both political and police conduct” in the case.

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The DPP stated it would not be making any further comment at this time.

An ACT Policing spokesperson said that as the DPP had requested a public inquiry into the matter, it wouldn’t make any comment.

“It would be inappropriate to provide any further comment in relation to any aspects surrounding this matter, including commentary about the letter from the ACT DPP,” they said.

“ACT Policing will continue to work cooperatively with the Office of DPP to ensure the safety and security of the Canberra community.”

Region also approached the ACT Human Rights Commission.

“The Commission is not making any further comment about the Lehrmann matter at this time,” a spokesperson responded.

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The Australian Federal Police Association (AFPA) said it wanted more than an inquiry into just this matter.

President Alex Caruana said a full judiciary inquiry was an “absolute necessity”, possibly accompanied by a referral to the ACT Integrity Commission or the Commonwealth Ombudsman if any misconduct by any party or persons was discovered.

“While Mr Drumgold has called for an inquiry into the actions of police, any inquiry, in the interests of impartiality and holism, must also assess the conduct of Mr Drumgold, the DPP, the ACT Victims of Crime Commissioner, and the ACT Attorney-General Shane Rattenbury, as well as issues causing delays in the trial and subsequent mistrial,” he said.

“The ACT Government must complete a review of the entire judicial system without delay; the system is in shambles thanks to Mr Rattenbury’s inaction and incompetence.

“If the Attorney-General will not call for a full and comprehensive inquiry into the justice system, then the ACT Chief Minister must step in and take action.”

Mr Caruana said the AFPA would also be making a formal complaint to the Office of the Australian Information Commission and the ACT Ombudsman regarding the possibility of FOI breaches and misconduct by the DPP.

“If the brief didn’t contain enough evidence and there were legitimate concerns about how what evidence was there was obtained, then why did he continue with the trial?” he asked.

“Mr Drumgold needs to explain this.”

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