The ACT’s top prosecutor has admitted he was mistaken in his fears there had been political interference in the Bruce Lehrmann case, an inquiry has heard.
Director of Public Prosecutions Shane Drumgold made the concession on his fourth day in the witness box in an inquiry into how criminal justice agencies handled Brittany Higgins’ allegations.
Mr Drumgold previously told the board of inquiry a series of “strange events”, including the strong held beliefs of police who didn’t support a prosecution, led him to believe a political conspiracy was “probable”.
But on Thursday, he hosed down his remarks and alleged a police “skills deficit” was to blame.
The DPP hosed down his claims on Thursday. Picture: NCA NewsWire/ Dylan Robinson
“My current view, having read all the police statements, it was most likely a skills’ deficit on the part of investigators,” Mr Drumgold said.
“I was certainly not subjected to political interference.”
Asked by chair Walter Sofronoff KC if his accusations had been mistaken, Mr Drumgold responded: “I do accept that”.
Mr Drumgold made the concession while being questioned by his counsel, Mark Tedeschi AM KC, about a scathing letter he sent ACT Chief of Police Neil Gaughan that sparked the inquiry.
Board of inquiry chair Walter Sofronoff pressed Mr Drumgold on the matter.
In the letter, the DPP outlined his suspicions about the behaviour of police and witnesses, including Liberal senators Linda Reynolds and Michaelia Cash.
The senators have denied any suggestion of political interference in the case.
The breakdown of the relationship between the DPP and police throughout the investigation and trial has been central to the inquiry.
A main source of tension has been an evidence brief prepared by Detective superintendent Scott Moller.
The report, referred to as the Moller Report, described Ms Higgins as evasive and uncooperative and raised concerns about her credibility.
Mr Drumgold told the inquiry that many of the concerns raised by police were not admissible in court, and the others, such as her reluctance to hand over her phone, could be led at trial by defence.
He said his perception was that police viewed the case as “dead” and were actively looking for evidence to “kill it”.
The inquiry was told at one point police expressed a desire to find an expert to watch CCTV footage and give evidence about Ms Higgins’ level of sobriety on the night of the alleged assault.
“There is no recognised field of expertise of observing drunk people, you simply can’t do it,” Mr Drumgold said.
Mr Drumgold said police wanted to get an expert to look at Ms Higgins intoxication levels from CCTV
The DPP raised concerns on Thursday about confusion within police about the standard of proof test required to charge someone.
He added the “passionately held” view by some police officers that Mr Lehrmann should not be charged, and subsequently convicted at trial, elevated his fears of interference.
“If you’re so passionate that you’re going to get physically sick, if your investigation results in charges, how can I have any competence, how can I have any confidence in that investigation?’’ Mr Drumgold said.
“These were key people in an investigation. These people ran the investigation. They engaged with the complainant.”
A diary note written by Mr Moller following a meeting with Deputy Chief Police Officer Michael Chew and tendered at the inquiry on Thursday also made reference to political interference.
The diary note tendered to the inquiry by police.
“Insufficient evidence to proceed. DCPO advised he had a meeting with DPP who had stated they would recommend prosecution,” the note read.
“DCPO stated ‘if it was my choice, I wouldn’t proceed. But it is not my choice. There is too much political interference’.”
Mr Moller wrote that he told the DCPO at the time that he had agreed there was “insufficient evidence” to proceed.
Mr Sofronoff asked Mr Drumgold if the note could be read as the DPP having been compelled or persuaded to charge.
“That was a possibility, but again, I’m looking at this through the prism of multiple strands in a cable,” Mr Drumgold responded.
Mr Lehrmann pleaded not guilty to one charge of sexually assaulting Ms Higgins before the trial was aborted due to jury misconduct.
He has continually denied the allegation and the DPP declined to pursue a second trial due to concerns over Ms Higgins’ mental health and dropped the charges.
The inquiry continues.