The ACT Director of Public Prosecutions Shane Drumgold has been confronted at an inquiry into the prosecution of Bruce Lehrmann over a claim that he made “knowingly false” statements to the ACT Supreme Court about a record of his discussions with Lisa Wilkinson.
The inquiry opened today with Mr Drumgold as the first witness.
Walter Sofronoff KC is set to investigate the circumstances of the prosecution of Bruce Lehrmann, who has always maintained his innocence.
The DPP argues he warned Channel Ten’s Lisa Wilkinson last year before her Logies speech that any more publicity risked another stay application to delay the trial.
She disputes that a clear warning was given.
Last year the trial of Bruce Lehrmann was delayed from June until October after The Project host Lisa Wilkinson accepted the Logie for her coverage of the sexual assault allegation.
ACT Chief Justice Lucy McCallum vacated the trial dates after his defence team requested a temporary stay in the wake of the speech and surrounding publicity. She said at the time that Ms Wilkinson was given a clear warning.
Bruce Lehrmann leaves court in Sydney in March. Picture: NCA NewsWire/ Flavio Brancaleone
About an hour into today’s hearing the counsel assisting the inquiry Erin Longbottom asked Mr Drumgold a series of questions over the records surrounding his discussions with Ms Wilkinson.
They met over Microsoft Teams in mid 2022 to discuss her evidence as a crown witness.
The inquiry heard that the initial note of the meeting by a junior staff member did not include any reference to a discussion of the Logies speech.
However the inquiry was told the note was later updated to include Mr Drumgold’s claim that he expressly warned Ms Wilkinson about the risk of a stay application.
“That note included your recollections of an exchange with Ms Willkinson in relation to a speech she proposed to give at the Logies,’’ Ms Longbottom asked.
She then pointed to a transcript recording an ACT Supreme Court hearing into a stay application in relation to the Logies speech where Mr Drumgold referred to his notes of the meeting with Ms Wilkinson.
“You responded that the note was made by my instructor and contemporaneously. You accept that?,’’ Ms Longbottom asked.
“Yes,’’ Mr Drumgold replied.
Ms Longbottom then told the inquiry, “Mr Drumgold those statements were false. And they were knowingly false.”
“No, I don’t accept that,’’ Mr Drumgold replied.
Mr Drumgold said it was unintentional.
“How can it be unintentional?,’’ Mr Sofronoff asked.
Mr Drumgold then said, “Well, I accepted that I was probably an error.”
“You think it’s an error?,” Mr Sofronoff replied. He then called for a morning tea break.
SOMETHING HAS GONE WRONG
Earlier, Mr Drumgold revealed he declared “some has gone wrong” after he learned of Lisa Wilkinson’s Logies speech that ultimately delayed the trial of Bruce Lehrmann in the Brittany Higgins rape case.
“Did you watch the Logies awards?,’’ counsel assisting the inquiry Erin Longbottom asked Mr Drumgold.
Mr Drumgold said he did not but was alerted to the speech shortly afterwards and recognised immediately it could risk a stay application by the defence team.
“It was problematic,’’ he said.
The inquiry tabled a series of emails today outlining Mr Drumgold’s meeting with Ms Wilkinson about her evidence because she was a crown witness.
His notes reveal the first time Ms Wilkinson met with Ms Higgins was at Star Casino on January 27, 2021. The notes confirmed the formal interview was conducted on February 2, 2021 and she was not paid for the interview.
At the end of the meeting Ms Wikinson said she was going to give a speech if she won at the Logies award. But Mr Drumgold stopped her and said “we are not speech writers.”
Mr Drumgold is being represented by barrister Mark Tedeschi KC, a former law professor and prosecutor who ran the trial against backpacker killer Ivan Milat.
Brittany Higgins accused Bruce Lehrmann of rape. Picture: NCA NewsWire / Gary Ramage
LOGIES SPEECH THAT DELAYED TRIAL
Last month, Channel 10’s Lisa Wilkinson has lodged a submission to an inquiry into the handling of the Brittany Higgins’ rape allegation in which she deals with the circumstances of her Logies speech.
Barrister Sue Chrysanthou is representing Ms Wilkinson at the inquiry.
Last year, Justice McCallum delayed the trial and said she made the order to delay the trial from starting as planned on Monday, June 27, with “gritted teeth” but was left with no other options.
“Notwithstanding that clear and appropriate warning, upon receiving the award, Ms Wilkinson gave a speech in which she openly referred to and praised the complainant in the present trial,” Justice McCallum said.
“Unsurprisingly, the award, and the content of the speech have been the subject of further commentary.”
TRUTH HURTS WARNING
Earlier, the former judge who is leading an independent inquiry into how the justice system handled rape allegation made by former Liberal Party staffer Brittany Higgins has warned that his investigation may “unavoidably hurt some people’s reputations.”
The Sofronoff inquiry opened today with revelations that the Director of Public Prosecutions Shane Drumgold believes police are “applying the wrong test” when prosecuting people accused of rape in the ACT.
“Public inquiries unavoidably hurt some people’s reputations,’’ Mr Sofronoff said in his opening address.
“That’s because the truth sometimes hurt and sometimes the truth is hidden. so that that doesn’t cause hurt.
“To the extent that damage to reputation is unavoidable, then it has to be lived with but the inquiry is trying to ensure that nobody is harmed unnecessarily.”
In her opening address, counsel assisting the inquiry Erin Longbottom KC said that the DPP’s concerns about police conduct went beyond the Brittany Higgins case.
“You will hear Mr. Drumgold has ongoing concerns that ACT police are applying the wrong test when deciding whether to charge,’’ she said.