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Networks seek to prove rape in Lehrmann defamation defence

Ten says it held multiple meetings with Brittany Higgins before Lisa Wilkinson's interview.

Ten says it held multiple meetings with Brittany Higgins before Lisa Wilkinson's interview. Photo: AAP

Network Ten and News Corp will seek to prove former Liberal Party staffer Bruce Lehrmann raped his then-colleague Brittany Higgins in its defence against a defamation claim.

Mr Lehrmann launched defamation action against the networks and Ten TV host Lisa Wilkinson over coverage of rape allegations made by his former colleague.

Ten filed its defence with the Federal Court on Tuesday and released publicly on Wednesday, joining with journalist Lisa Wilkinson who is also seeking to prove the allegation true as part of her own defence.

Court documents outlining the network’s defence say it will rely upon the “substantial imbalance of power” between Mr Lehrmann and Ms Higgins while they worked in the office of then-defence minister Linda Reynolds.

Lawyers for the network will claim Mr Lehrmann “was sexually attracted” to Ms Higgins and “attempted to kiss” her in the days leading up to the alleged rape.

“Higgins politely declined Lehrmann’s advance and Lehrmann got into a taxi or Uber and left,” the defence says.

News Corp’s lawyers make the same allegations in separate documents.

Ten’s defence will rely on Mr Lehrmann’s “lies, inconsistencies and consciousness of guilt”, including his differing explanations for going to Parliament House on the night of the alleged rape.

Mr Lehrmann also missed six calls from his then-girlfriend that night, which the network references as being a “consciousness of guilt for having raped” Ms Higgins.

“Lehrmann’s multiple inconsistent and/or knowingly false accounts are consistent with a consciousness of guilt for having raped Higgins,” the defence says.

Network Ten will defend its publishing of Ms Higgins’ allegations as being in the public interest because of Mr Lehrmann’s role as a senior ministerial advisor.

The defence also details multiple meetings between Ten journalists, lawyers and Ms Higgins before the interview with Ms Wilkinson was published.

“Ten reasonably believed that the information it included in the matters complained of was true, and omitted any information which could not be independently verified,” the defence says.

Lawyers also say the media company made “reasonable attempts” to contact Mr Lehrmann to obtain his side of the story before the interview went to air, but he did not respond.

“Had Lehrmann responded to Ten’s attempts to contact him, Ten would have included Lehrmann’s side of the story, by including his response or the substance of his response, in the matters complained of,” the defence says.

Ten also denies it identified Mr Lehrmann in the original report and said his name was not used with the broader production team.

Wilkinson has her own legal team in the case. She filed her written defence last week and is also seeking to rely in part on a defence of truth.

Statements of claim for Mr Lehrmann filed in the defamation action said his personal reputation had been “greatly injured” as a result of the allegations.

“[Mr Lehrmann] has been greatly injured in his personal and professional reputation and has been and will be brought into public disrepute,” the statement said.

Mr Lehrmann has consistently denied the allegations.

His criminal trial in the ACT Supreme Court was derailed last year because of juror misconduct.

The prosecutor later dropped the charges due to the impact a second trial would have on Ms Higgins’ mental health.

The ACT government has launched an independent inquiry into the handling of Ms Higgins’ rape allegations by police, prosecutors and a victim’s support service.

– AAP

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