‘May have been drugged’: Higgins seizes on police ‘info’

Brittany Higgins alleges she was raped in a parliamentary office by Bruce Lehrmann.

Brittany Higgins alleges she was raped in a parliamentary office by Bruce Lehrmann. Photo: AAP

Brittany Higgins has seized on an AFP officer’s suggestion she “may have been drugged” on the night the former political staffer alleges to have been raped at Parliament House.

In submissions released by the Federal Court on Tuesday, Higgins said she would have “wished to explore” that claim during the current defamation hearing between Bruce Lehrmann and Channel Ten, in which Higgins was a witness.

The suggestion that Higgins may have been drugged was contained in a note by AFP officer Leanne Cross in a ‘master chronology’ prepared by Lehrmann’s legal team.

The police entry reads: “I also have concerns from info I heard that this may have happened before or could happen again. (I was referring to info that alleged victim may have been drugged). Paul (Sherring) – we need to speak to a range of people. Security staff cleaners may have info.”

Higgins’ submission said the entry “appears to be a record made by a senior AFP officer of a meeting with the Minister (Linda) Reynolds and Fiona Brown on the 4th of April 2019”.

Her submission stated there may be “info” Higgins may have been “drugged” — as expressed in the police note.

“The nature of that ‘info’ and the basis upon which the concerns were held was not explored,” Higgins’ submission reads.

“In the context of a serious challenge to the honesty and accuracy of Ms Higgins’ account of the events of the night in question, the potential that her perceptive and recollective abilities may have been affected other than by ­alcohol and trauma is an issue that she would have wished to explore.”

The submission was made public by the Federal Court ahead of Monday’s judgment in Lehrmann’s defamation case against Ten and journalist Lisa Wilkinson.

Higgins’ lawyers also urged the court to reject credit attacks by her alleged rapist Lehrmann, saying her conduct was consistent with someone suffering trauma.

Higgins’ barrister Nicholas Owens SC defended her “unwavering, consistent and clear account” of the alleged rape.

Owens argued that because Higgins was only a witness in Lehrmann’s defamation case against Network Ten – and not the party suing or being sued – she could not fully respond to attacks on her credibility.

Any claimed inconsistencies in her statements had not been properly examined through evidence, particularly of her mental health or reasons for altered perceptions and memories, he wrote.

Lehrmann’s submissions that Higgins was dishonest should be “decisively rejected”, Owens wrote.

“Much of the conduct that Mr Lehrmann contends is dishonest is in fact entirely consistent with Ms Higgins having been raped,” he said.

How Higgins acted, including by neglecting to visit a doctor after the alleged rape, reflected how a person’s memory and conduct could be affected by traumatic events, Owens said.

“For the court to treat the credit attacks made against Ms Higgins as a reason to disbelieve her about her rape would be to use a consequence of that rape as a basis to deny its occurrence,” he wrote.

Higgins alleges Lehrmann raped her in a Parliament House office in March 2019 while the pair were working for Liberal senator Linda Reynolds.

He denies the allegation and a criminal trial was abandoned in 2022 because of juror misconduct, leaving no findings against him.

Justice Michael Lee had been set to hand down one of the most anticipated judgments in the nation on April 4.

But he postponed the decision until Monday after Ten brought in new evidence regarding Lehrmann’s 2023 Spotlight interview with the Seven Network.

The judge reopened the case and last week heard allegations Lehrmann abused the processes of the court by leaking private, confidential texts from Higgins before his interview.

During the reopened trial, ex-Seven producer Taylor Auerbach claimed he saw Lehrmann buying cocaine and ordering sex workers in a Sydney hotel paid for by the network.

In an affidavit, Auerbach said Lehrmann sent him messages between Higgins and a former boyfriend and later messages between her and journalist Peter FitzSimons.

These texts made up part of a confidential police file offered to Lehrmann during the criminal trial and for which he gave an implicit promise not to use for any other purpose, the court heard.

Auerbach’s lawyer Rebekah Giles also filed submissions with the court that were made public on Tuesday.

In that document, she rejected Seven’s claims her client was motivated by vengeance or some other ill-will towards the broadcaster in coming forward to give evidence.

His claims had not been shown to be false, including allegations Seven paid Lehrmann for massages and drugs before the Spotlight interview, the solicitor said.

Lehrmann could have personally responded to the claims in court but chose not to, Giles said.

“His silence was deafening, such that the court should find that his evidence could not have assisted him,” she said.

In his case against Ten and journalist Lisa Wilkinson (who is married to FitzSimons), Lehrmann claims he was defamed by a February 2021 interview on The Project with Higgins.

He is seeking substantial damages, saying his reputation was ruined.

But lawyers for Ten and Wilkinson have argued Lehrmann is a liar whose credibility was shot and who abused the processes of the court because of the leaked material and false claims.

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-with AAP

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