Lehrmann prosecutor admits to inquiry he may have broken law
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The top prosecutor who ran the rape trial of former Coalition staffer Bruce Lehrmann told an inquiry into the abandoned case that he may have broken the law when he looked at confidential counselling notes about Brittany Higgins.
Walter Sofronoff, the former Queensland Supreme Court judge helming the ACT government investigation into the handling of the high-profile case, accused the territory’s Director of Public Prosecutions Shane Drumgold of holding a “double standard” after the latter ensured the sensitive documents were not disclosed to the defence team.
ACT Director of Public Prosecutions Shane Drumgold SC (right) and his lawyer Mark Tedeschi KC in Canberra.Credit: Alex Ellinghausen
Police had sent the confidential notes to Lehrmann’s defence team as part of an unredacted brief of evidence in 2021.
Drumgold said in a statement tendered before the inquiry that he was trying to work out whether the actions of police in assessing if the confidential notes had been seen by the defence could be put down to “unsophisticated corruption or atomic level stupidity”.
Drumgold conceded that he possibly shouldn’t have read the documents either, and was focused on assessing the damage that could be done should they fall into the wrong hands, admitting that when he told Higgins the notes had been sent to the defence team he didn’t mention he’d seen them too.
“I didn’t turn my mind that I was in breach of the Evidence Miscellaneous Provisions Act. I’ve conceded several times that in retrospect it probably did apply in those circumstances,” Drumgold told the inquiry.
Bruce Lehrmann has maintained his innocence over rape allegations, which were discontinued against him last year.Credit: Alex Ellinghausen
His evidence from the witness box of the ACT Civil and Administrative Tribunal on Tuesday came as other material tendered to the inquiry revealed allegations that a senior police officer told Lehrmann’s barrister during the trial he would resign if a guilty verdict was returned and; a police investigative review mentioned an allegation Lehrmann had put his hand on the thigh of another ministerial staffer.
Sofronoff also asked Drumgold whether he believed he had breached the Victims of Crime Act’s prohibition upon disclosure by reading the counselling notes, to which Drumgold replied, “potentially”.
However, Drumgold’s lawyer Mark Tedeschi challenged whether reading the notes amounted to disclosure, to which Sofronoff later responded he might be right.
Lehrmann pleaded not guilty to sexually assaulting Higgins in the parliamentary office of former Coalition government minister Linda Reynolds, for whom the pair both worked, after a night drinking with colleagues in March 2019.
The trial was aborted in October 2022 due to juror misconduct, and a retrial was abandoned due to Drumgold’s fears over Higgins’ mental health.
The ACT government announced the inquiry into the conduct and competence of the criminal justice agencies involved in the case after a public breakdown in the relationship between the DPP and the ACT police.
A lengthy police analysis of the evidence in the case that was tendered to the inquiry, also mentioned an allegation that Lehrmann had placed his hand on the thigh of another former Coalition staffer at a bar with parliamentary colleagues in 2019.
“During this encounter inappropriate jokes and stories were told. Mr Lehrmann looked at [the woman] in a ‘suggestive manner’ and placed his hand on her clothed thigh. [The woman] left the table. Mr Lehrmann and [the woman] had no further contact,” the police analysis said, without indicating a date in 2019.
The police analysis, released by the board of inquiry, also said Higgins’ colleague Nicole Hamer “indicates Ms Higgins and [her former boyfriend] Ben Dillaway have had sex on multiple occasions in the same office to which she is stating she was sexually assaulted”.
Senior ACT police officer, Detective Inspector Marcus Boorman also allegedly told Lehrmann’s defence barrister Steven Whybrow SC his client was innocent during a secret conversation between the pair while the trial was underway.
Whybrow alleged in a statement tendered to the inquiry that Boorman told him in a Canberra backstreet he would resign if the jury returned a guilty verdict.
“Di Boorman indicated to me that he was quite distressed about this prosecution and considered that Mr Lehrmann was innocent,” Whybrow said in his statement. “He made several other comments along these lines and I recall words to the effect ‘if the jury comes back with a guilty verdict, I’m resigning’.”
Whybrow also said he was concerned Drumgold had lost his objectivity, and said the prosecutor described the police investigating the case as “boofheads” whose evidence wasn’t admissible in court.
Drumgold in his statement said he was concerned police were trying to undermine the trial, and that they doubted her credibility due to her going to the media before making a police statement, among other factors.
The inquiry continues.
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