Brittany Higgins (centre, file image)
A friend of Brittany Higgins said she was sobbing in his arms after she was allegedly raped. Image by Dean Lewins/AAP PHOTOS
  • crime, law and justice

Higgins ‘very broken’ after alleged parliamentary rape

Miklos Bolza December 7, 2023

Brittany Higgins broke down sobbing in the arms of a close friend days after being allegedly raped by Bruce Lehrmann in Parliament House, a court has heard.

Ben Dillaway says he flew to Canberra on March 27, 2019 to support Ms Higgins after suspecting she had been sexually assaulted the weekend before.

Giving evidence in a defamation trial on Thursday, Mr Dillaway said Ms Higgins was crying and sobbing in his arms.

Ben Dillaway
 Ben Dillaway said Ms Higgins was “very upset and appeared very broken.” Image by Bianca De Marchi/AAP PHOTOS 

“She was very upset and appeared very broken,” he told the Federal Court.

Mr Dillaway said while he could not recall the exact words spoken, he took away from the discussion that his friend had been raped or sexually assaulted.

Lehrmann is suing Network Ten and journalist Lisa Wilkinson for defamation over a February 2021 report on The Project regarding Higgins’ allegation.

The ex-Liberal staffer denies any sexual contact or intimacy occurred between himself and Ms Higgins.

In the week or so after the alleged rape, Ms Higgins allegedly told Mr Dillaway she was struggling at work, had experienced panic attacks and had confined herself in a Parliament House bathroom to cry.

She also told him she did not want anyone to know about the alleged incident, Mr Dillaway said.

“She had concerns about becoming known as the girl who was raped in parliament.”

Bruce Lehrmann (right) with barrister Steven Whybrow
 Lehrmann’s barrister Steven Whybrow (left) questioned Brittany Higgins’ friend about her job fears. Image by Bianca De Marchi/AAP PHOTOS 

Under cross-examination by Lehrmann’s barrister Steven Whybrow SC, Mr Dillaway said he thought Ms Higgins had an “unfounded fear” about perceived consequences on her job if she went to the police.

“I thought she had nothing to fear from her job because she was the victim,” he said.

There was also no ultimatum Ms Higgins had to help minister Linda Reynolds campaign for the federal election in Perth but rather it was a feeling she had, Mr Dillaway said.

Nikola Anderson was working as a security guard about 1.30am on March 23, 2019 when she escorted Ms Higgins and Lehrmann to the office of Senator Reynolds.

Ms Anderson testified that she conducted a welfare check about 4.30am after Ms Higgins failed to come out of the suite.

In an affidavit, she said Ms Higgins was naked on the minister’s couch and had opened her eyes to look at her.

Nikola Anderson (right, file image)
 Nikola Anderson (right) said Ms Higgins did not appear to be in distress when she checked her. Image by Mick Tsikas/AAP PHOTOS 

“She rolled over into the fetal position and faced the desk, the minister’s desk,” she told the court.

Ms Higgins’ dress and shoes were on the floor next to the lounge, her makeup appeared to be intact and she did not appear to be in any distress, Ms Anderson said.

Mark Fairweather, the other security guard who signed Lehrmann and Ms Higgins into Parliament House, said the pair did not seem to be too drunk going through the metal detectors.

He said when Lehrmann left later on, he was walking hastily while looking down at his phone.

Major Nikita Irvine worked as Senator Reynolds’ aide de camp around the time of the alleged rape and told the court she got “bad vibes” from Lehrmann.

“When I started at that office, I had bad vibes on Bruce and his future,” she said.

Nikita Irvine departs the Federal Court
 Nikita Irvine told the court she had “bad vibes” about Bruce Lehrmann. Image by Bianca De Marchi/AAP PHOTOS 

When Ten’s barrister Matthew Collins KC asked what she meant, Maj Irvine could not give a precise answer.

“It’s women’s intuition, Dr Collins. I’m sorry, I just didn’t want to spend time with him.”

Lehrmann has already had $445,000 in legal bills covered under two defamation settlements with News.com.au and the ABC over their media reports airing Ms Higgins’ rape allegations.

Higgins received a total of almost $2.5 million from a settlement with the Commonwealth after suing for breaches of employment law and the sex discrimination act in relation to events during and after the alleged rape.

Lehrmann was charged in August 2021 over the alleged rape, but his criminal trial in the ACT Supreme Court was derailed by juror misconduct.

Prosecutors did not seek a second trial, citing concerns for Ms Higgins’ mental health.

Lehrmann is also before Queensland courts accused of raping another woman twice in Toowoomba in October 2021.

He has not yet entered a plea, but his lawyers have indicated he denies the charges.

1800 RESPECT (1800 737 732)

National Sexual Abuse and Redress Support Service 1800 211 028