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Lehrmann denies encouraging Higgins to get drunk

Lehrmann grilled over Higgins allegations

Ex-Liberal staffer Bruce Lehrmann has denied encouraging Brittany Higgins to get drunk at a bar before her alleged rape in a Parliament House office.

Facing questioning for the third day in his defamation case against Network Ten and journalist Lisa Wilkinson, Lehrmann watched CCTV footage from Canberra bar The Dock taken on a Friday in March 2019.

The footage showed Lehrmann buying drinks for Higgins twice and separately placing a glass of alcohol in her hands and arranging three drinks before her on the table.

“You were encouraging Ms Higgins to get drunk,” Ten’s barrister Matthew Collins KC said during cross-examination on Friday.

“No,” Lehrmann said.

The former tobacco lobbyist also denied Collins’ suggestion that he had ensured Higgins had a glass of spirits in her hands at every moment.

Collins suggested that Lehrmann – in arranging the three drinks on the table – had said “all hers, all hers” to one of his colleagues.

“I disagree with that,” Lehrmann said.

Bank and credit-card statements provided by the law student to the court show only one $16 purchase at The Dock that night.

Lehrmann could not explain how he had twice paid Ms Higgins’ drinks, despite CCTV showing him handing a bank card to the bartender.

He has denied having another, undisclosed card.

Lehrmann was also unable to say why he told the court on Wednesday that he had not bought drinks for anyone else at The Dock other than one round of beers for a friend.

“I must have been confused about where we were,” he told Justice Michael Lee.

After being allowed to take a short break, after telling the court his “mind was blank”, Lehrmann acknowledged he had bought drinks for Higgins at least once.

Higgins claims Lehrmann sexually assaulted her in the office of their then-boss, former defence industry minister Linda Reynolds, in the early hours of Saturday, March 23, 2019.

Lehrmann has consistently denied the allegations.

Earlier in the day, Lehrmann admitted he gave a false account to police about why he and Brittany Higgins returned to Parliament House on the night she was allegedly raped.

Three days after the alleged sexual assault, during a meeting with Senator Reynolds’ then-chief of staff Fiona Brown over a “security incident” on the weekend, Lehrmann said he returned to the office to have two glasses of whisky.

During an April 2021 interview with federal police, he denied that drinking whisky was the excuse he gave to Brown about why he was back at Parliament House after hours.

“Those answers to the Australian Federal Police were false?” Collins said.

“Yes,” Lehrmann said.

“And you knew them to be false?” Collins said.

“Not at the time,” Lehrmann said.

He is suing Ten and Wilkinson for defamation over a February 2021 report on The Project featuring an interview with Higgins about the alleged sexual assault.

Lehrmann has settled separate defamation proceedings he brought against News.com.au and the ABC over their reports about Higgins’ allegations.

The criminal trial in the ACT Supreme Court over Higgins’ alleged rape was derailed by juror misconduct and prosecutors did not seek a second trial because of concerns over her mental health.

A landmark report into the ACT legal system and the Higgins case was released in August, making damning findings against now ex-director of public prosecutions Shane Drumgold over his conduct during the case.

Lehrmann has separately been accused of raping another woman twice in Toowoomba in October 2021.

That criminal case is still in the committal stage and he is yet to enter a plea, but his lawyers have indicated that he denies the charges.

– AAP

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