‘Grateful’ Wilkinson speaks after Lehrmann verdict

Wilkinson speaks outside court

Source: ABC News

Journalist Lisa Wilkinson has hailed her defamation victory over former Liberal staffer Bruce Lehrmann as “giving strength to women around the country”.

Wilkinson spoke briefly outside the Federal Court in Sydney on Monday, in the moments after Justice Michael Lee tossed out Lehrmann’s defamation action against her and Network Ten.

“Today the Federal Court has found that I published a true story about a rape in a federal minister’s office at Parliament House in March of 2019. I sincerely hope that this judgment gives strength to women around the country,” she said.

“Throughout every step of this process, I have been surrounded by the love of my wonderful family, as well as incredibly supportive friends and colleagues. I can never thank them enough.

“I also want to say how grateful I am to all the generous members of the public who have approached me almost every single day to express often through tears their unwavering support.”

Ten lawyer Justin Quill called the result an “unmitigated disaster” for Lehrmann, and said the network had been vindicated.

“This is a resounding win for Channel Ten and it is a dismal failure by Bruce Lehrmann,” he said outside court.

“He brought this claim to court for two reasons – one, to make money, and two, to reinvent history. He wanted people to believe his version of events, and he failed in both endeavours.

“It’s an unmitigated disaster for Bruce Lehrmann. His Honour has found he had sex without consent and he was hellbent on gratification in doing so.

“For Channel Ten, it’s vindication … Vindication in its belief and support of Brittany Higgins, who, it has got to be said, was particularly brave to come to court, and unlike most rape victims, come to court having chosen not to have anonymity.

“It’s a vindication by Ten to continue to run and defend these defamation proceedings, to fight the cost in doing so. Ultimately it’s an unmitigated disaster for Bruce Lehrmann … Bruce Lehrmann is a rapist.”

Lehrmann left court shortly after the verdict, and is yet to make any public statement.

Earlier, Lee delivered a devastating loss to the 28-year-old’s attempt to restore his reputation after he found Lehrmann was indifferent to whether a drunk Brittany Higgins consented or not before he raped her at Parliament House.

Lehrmann had sued Ten and Wilkinson for defamation over a February 2021 report on The Project airing Brittany Higgins’ claims of rape.

“Mr Lehrmann raped Ms Higgins,” Lee said of the infamous night as he ruled in favour of Ten.

While there was no evidence Lehrmann knew that Higgins did not consent to the sexual activity, he was recklessly indifferent to her rights, the judge said.

The two staffers were seen kissing and touching while out for drinks one Friday night in Canberra in March 2019 before they got in an Uber and returned to Parliament House.

“Having successfully brought Ms Higgins back to a secluded place, Mr Lehrmann was hell-bent on having sex,” Lee told a packed courtroom in a judgment that lasted several hours.

The former Liberal staffer sat with his head bowed while listening to the judge’s findings.

“He was a 23-year-old male cheating on his girlfriend, having just ‘hooked up’ with a woman he found sexually attractive,” Lee said.

“Human experience suggests what he then wanted to happen is not exactly shrouded in mystery.”

Even if Lehrmann had won his defamation case, he would have been entitled to only a “very modest” amount of $20,000 in damages given the limited nature of any hurt from Ten’s reporting, Lee said.

Lehrmann arrives at court for Monday's verdict

Source: AAP

The judge also said that while Wilkinson’s controversial Logies speech, for an award for The Project interview, derailed criminal proceedings against Lehrmann and denied him the right to a fair trial, that gave his legal team more time to attack Higgins’ allegations.

Lehrmann’s criminal trial was abandoned in 2022 with no findings against him. Monday’s findings in the civil defamation case have a lesser burden of proof, and will not lead to any further charges.

“Having escaped the lions’ den, Mr Lehrmann made the mistake of going back for his hat,” Lee said.

Earlier on Monday, the judge slammed Lehrmann as an unreliable, dishonest witness.

“Mr Lehrmann has no compunction from departing from the truth if he thought it was expedient,” he said.

“I am satisfied that in important respects, he told deliberate lies.”

Lee said both Lehrmann and Higgins were “unreliable historians” when recounting what occurred on that fateful night.

He said Higgins had been loose with the truth about allegations to Ten in 2021 that members of the then-Coalition government had sought to silence her in reporting the alleged rape.

“‘The cover-up allegation was objectively short on facts but long on speculation,” he said.

But he found that any incorrect statements to police in 2019 were not inconsistent with remarks being made by a genuine victim of sexual assault.

Lee said Lehrmann was not entitled to vindicate his reputation, despite being identified by Ten’s report. But he also slammed Ten, saying the broadcaster had chased the allegation of a government cover-up that was “without reasonable foundation in verifiable fact”.

“The allegation of rape was the minor theme [of the broadcast] and the allegation of cover-up was the major motif,” he said.

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National Sexual Abuse and Redress Support Service 1800 211 028

-with AAP

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