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

‘I could not have consented’: Higgins to colleague

Miklos Bolza December 11, 2023

An emotional Brittany Higgins made confronting statements about her inability to consent days after being allegedly raped on a minister’s couch by Bruce Lehrmann, a court has heard.

Her mother also gave evidence that her daughter was a “broken soul” who had become withdrawn and lost her enthusiasm for life after the claimed sexual assault.

Former departmental liaison officer Christopher Payne says he saw a teary-eyed Ms Higgins walking past his office early in the week after a reported security incident at Parliament House on Saturday, March 23, 2019.

Kelly Higgins, mother of Brittany Higgins, departs the Federal Court
 Kelly Higgins (pictured) described her daughter as a “broken soul” after the alleged sexual assault. Image by Bianca De Marchi/AAP PHOTOS 

He told a Federal Court defamation trial on Monday the junior media adviser spoke of waking up on a couch in the office of her then-boss, Senator Linda Reynolds, to find fellow staffer Lehrmann on top of her.

“I said, ‘Did he rape you?’,” Mr Payne said.

“Her response was, ‘I could not have consented. It would have been like f***ing a log’.”

These “confronting” words by a young woman in tears in his office stuck with him, he added.

Mr Payne was giving evidence as Network Ten and journalist Lisa Wilkinson tried to establish the truth of the rape allegation featured in a February 2021 broadcast of The Project.

Lehrmann claims this report is defamatory and denies any sexual contact between himself and Ms Higgins occurred.

Ms Higgins’ mother Kelly Higgins said her daughter came to live with her soon after the report on The Project and she was a totally different person to the woman she was before the alleged sexual assault.

“Her joy was gone, her desire was gone, her personal happiness was gone,” she said.

“She is a broken soul.”

Christopher Payne departs the Federal Court
 Christopher Payne said “confronting” words by a young woman in tears in his office stuck with him. Image by Bianca De Marchi/AAP PHOTOS 

In November 2019, Ms Higgins first disclosed the rape allegation to her mother and her mother’s then-partner at a restaurant.

“I’d just been told a mother’s worst nightmare,” she said.

She denied suggestions by Lehrmann’s barrister Steven Whybrow SC that this disclosure did not occur.

Ms Higgin’s father Matthew Higgins said he didn’t recognise his daughter during a trip to Canberra with his partner Kellie Jago on the weekend after the alleged sexual assault.

“Usually she’s like a really positive, happy, vibracious young girl,” he told Justice Michael Lee.

“She was absolutely quiet and withdrawn.”

Ms Jago said she came across Ms Higgins bawling in her room when the then-Liberal staffer flew to Queensland to visit some time in 2019.

Federal agents Rebecca Cleaves and Katie Thelning also took the stand to give evidence about a meeting they had with Ms Higgins on April 1, 2019 in the Parliament House basement.

AFP agents Rebecca Cleaves (left) and Katie Thelning depart
 AFP agents Rebecca Cleaves (left) and Katie Thelning gave evidence about a meeting with Ms Higgins. Image by Bianca De Marchi/AAP PHOTOS 

It was the first time Ms Higgins had gone to the police regarding the rape claim.

In her notes, Ms Cleaves wrote that Ms Higgins described waking up to find Lehrmann on top of her and saying “no” or “don’t”.

She reported passing out afterwards and waking up alone and confused with the smell of sex still lingering in the air.

She told police she had vomit stains on her dress and she used Senator Reynolds’ deodorant before borrowing a jacket from the goodwill box in the office and leaving.

Ms Higgins said she had later gone to work and acted cordially with Lehrmann, Ms Thelning said.

“I put what happened away so it wouldn’t be a narrative to my life’s story,” Ms Higgins reportedly told the federal agents.

“I am quite good at doing this.”

Bruce Lehrmann during a break at the Federal Court
 Lehrmann is also before Queensland courts accused of raping another woman twice in Toowoomba. Image by Bianca De Marchi/AAP PHOTOS 

The trial is expected to go into the final week before Christmas, the court heard on Monday.

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.

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