Brittany Higgins (file image)
Brittany Higgins left a false trail to avoid a career-limiting moment, a judge has heard. Image by Dean Lewins/AAP PHOTOS
  • crime, law and justice

Higgins left ‘bread crumb’ lies to keep job, court told

Miklos Bolza December 22, 2023

Former Liberal staffer Brittany Higgins told a series of lies about being raped by Bruce Lehrmann because she thought she was going to be fired, a judge has been told.

Lehrmann’s counsel Steven Whybrow SC told a Federal Court defamation trial Ms Higgins left a “false trail” after realising she had been found naked and asleep on a couch in Senator Linda Reynolds’ office in March 2019.

“The bread crumbs and the falsity and the preparedness of Ms Higgins to say things that suit her narrative and her interests is quite compelling,” he told Justice Michael Lee on Friday.

Lawyer Steven Whybrow (left) and former Liberal staffer Bruce Lehmann
 Barrister Steven Whybrow (left) said “a virus of madness” denied Bruce Lehrmann a fair trial. Image by Mick Tsikas/AAP PHOTOS 

Lehrmann denies any sexual activity occurred.

He is suing Network Ten and journalist Lisa Wilkinson over a February 2021 report on The Project in which Ms Higgins was interviewed about the rape claim.

Mr Whybrow said Ms Higgins planted the seeds of the assault allegation to avoid a “potential career-limiting or career-ending moment” but found herself in a conundrum when others tried to investigate a claim she initially didn’t want to pursue.

“(She’s) knocked the snowball off the top of the mountain and it’s starting to roll down,” he said.

The barrister insisted no sexual activity occurred between Ms Higgins and his client, but he said she could have undressed in anticipation of something happening before falling asleep waiting.

A security guard reported seeing Ms Higgins naked on the couch on the night of the alleged rape.

There was plausibility in Lehrmann’s claims he returned to Parliament House to retrieve his keys and had annotated Question Time briefs with notes about French submarine contracts while he was there, Mr Whybrow said.

Justice Lee said if the independent evidence was accepted, the 23-year-old Lehrmann was seen kissing Ms Higgins, a woman he found attractive, before he returned to Parliament House while his girlfriend waited at home.

Television personality Lisa Wilkinson leaves the Federal Court
 Lisa Wilkinson was “captured” by Ms Higgins and never challenged her claims, the court heard. Image by Mick Tsikas/AAP PHOTOS 

“Now does a man in a situation like that have French submarine contracts on his mind or does he have something else on his mind?” he said.

Also representing Lehrmann, barrister Matthew Richardson SC submitted that even if Justice Lee found the ex-Liberal staffer lied, he was still owed compensation if the central rape claim could not be proved.

He argued Ten and Wilkinson had acted unreasonably in creating The Project report as they were “captured” by Ms Higgins and “never uttered a breath of challenge” to her claims.

The broadcaster failed to give Lehrmann a proper chance to respond to the allegations and sent out requests for comment to other parties so late there was no time to conduct further interviews before the report was aired, he said.

Ten could still have reported Ms Higgins’ allegations if there was doubt about what she said but the story had to reflect that uncertainty, Mr Richardson said.

“Here Wilkinson and (Ten producer Angus) Llewellyn said they expected the viewer to believe the rape had happened,” he said.

Earlier, Mr Whybrow questioned what would have happened if media organisations had told Ms Higgins to go to police first and to wait before speaking publicly.

“If that had happened, we would not have had what appears to have been a virus of madness that spread amongst everybody,” he said.

Bruce Lehrmann arrives at the Federal Court
 Ten failed to give Lehrmann a proper chance to respond to the allegations, his barrister said. Image by Mick Tsikas/AAP PHOTOS 

Public broadcasts about Ms Higgins’ rape allegation were made without question or pushback, the barrister argued.

“To a degree, anybody trying to provide a counter-narrative to that story is shouted down as some sort of rape apologist or anti-woman or misogynist.”

Lehrmann’s trial in the ACT Supreme Court on a charge of raping Ms Higgins was derailed by juror misconduct.

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

He has been charged with allegedly raping another woman twice in Toowoomba in October 2021 and remains before Queensland courts.

He has not yet entered a plea but lawyers have indicated he denies that allegation.

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