News Life Media will seek to prove Bruce Lehrmann lied to police about why he was at Parliament House on the night he allegedly raped Brittany Higgins, and showed a “consciousness of guilt”.
In the defence document filed in the defamation case brought by Mr Lehrmann, who strenuously denies the allegations, News Corp-owned News Life Media and news.com.au’s Samantha Maiden claim he lied to police a number of times about the reason he went to Parliament House on the night of the alleged rape.
The respondents allege that on five occasions he told police he went to get his keys, while on approximately another six occasions, he said it was to update Question Time folders, but he didn’t pick up any documents.
The defence – which pleads truth and qualified privilege – also alleges Mr Lehrmann lied to security and senior staff about why he was at Parliament House and to police about whether he signed in Ms Higgins.
They claim that in the following days and weeks, Mr Lehrmann told then-Minister Linda Reynolds’ chief of staff he had gone there to “drink whisky,” but denied to police this was the reason.
They also allege he lied to police by saying he didn’t realise Ms Higgins was drunk, that he hadn’t had “any intimate contact” beyond flirting and that he hadn’t received any phone calls while in Parliament House.
The defence alleges that weeks before the alleged rape, Mr Lehrmann asked his colleague to invite Ms Higgins “for a drink” because he found her attractive, but she thought this was an informal job interview.
Mr Lehrmann is suing Channel 10 and Lisa Wilkinson, as well as News Life Media and Ms Maiden, over coverage of Ms Higgins’ rape allegations in February 2021.
He claims the stories revealing the allegations – which he strenuously denies and have never been proven in court – were defamatory and “recklessly indifferent to the truth or falsity”.
Brittany Higgins and Bruce Lehrmann.
Mr Lehrmann was charged with sexual intercourse without consent in August 2021 and pleaded not guilty to the charge that was later dropped.
He has always denied having sex with Ms Higgins.
In its defence, News Life Media says it will rely on the following alleged sequence of events to show Mr Lehrmann raped Ms Higgins:
Alleged attempted kiss
In early March 2019, Ms Higgins contacted ex-defence Minister Linda Reynolds’ senior media Adviser Nicky Hamer, seeking a job with Ms Reynolds.
In the defence, the respondents allege Ms Higgins understood a meeting with Ms Hammer, Mr Lehrmann and another colleague on March 2 at Canberra’s Kingston Hotel was a “form of job interview” but was in fact arranged “because Lehrmann thought Higgins was physically attractive and he asked (Ms) Hammer to invite Higgins out for a drink”.
It is further alleged that sometime in March, the pair were waiting for taxis outside a social dinner for Ms Reynolds’ staff when Mr Lehrmann “attempted to kiss Higgins” – an advance she “politely declined” before leaving.
The former Liberal staffer is suing News Life Media over coverage of Ms Higgins’ allegation. Picture: NCA NewsWire/Gary Ramage
Bars and nightclubs on night in question
On the Friday night of March 22, 2019, Ms Higgins went to social drinks for defence staff at ‘The Dock’ bar.
Having been in her new job for only weeks, she “wanted to make a good impression … and add value to her team” so she’d invited her colleagues at Ms Reynolds’ office, including Mr Lehrmann.
Over about 4.5 hours, Ms Higgins did not eat and had 11 alcoholic drinks, including one she “skolled” and at least two which Mr Lehrmann had bought her. Mr Lehrmann “was aware that she had become drunk”.
Just before midnight, the group dispersed and Mr Lehrmann suggested some go to a nightclub called ‘88MPH’.
After Mr Lehrmann, Ms Higgins and two friends caught a taxi there, Ms Higgins became extremely intoxicated and Mr Lehrmann “began to touch (her) familiarly”.
Ms Higgins became so drunk that she fell over and had to be helped up by Mr Lehrmann.
About 1.30am, she decided she needed to go home. Mr Lehrmann suggested they ride together as they lived in the same direction. After calling an Uber, he told Ms Higgins he needed to go Parliament House to “pick something up from work”.
At 1.40am, Mr Lehrmann called security on the intercom at the Ministerial Entrance of Parliament House as neither of them had their security passes.
The respondents allege Ms Higgins “was so drunk” that she couldn’t sign her own name and “gave up” putting her shoes back on at security.
After Mr Lehrmann allegedly signed them in, a security guard took them to the Ministerial Suite at 1.48am and left.
According to the defence, Ms Higgins entered Ms Reynolds’ office and allegedly sat alone on a ledge overlooking the Prime Minister’s courtyard for a short period before passing out.
The respondents allege that sometime later, Ms Higgins “was woken by a sharp pain in her thigh”.
“She woke to find herself lying on her back on the sofa in Reynolds’ office … wedged into the corner of the sofa”.
“Lehrmann was on top of her. He had his knee crushed against Higgins’ thigh … He had her pinned into the corner of the sofa”.
“He was having forceful sexual intercourse with Higgins, audibly slapping himself against her”.
Ms Higgins had not consented to the sex, the respondents allege, and was incapable of doing so because she was too drunk and had passed out; and had not communicated to Mr Lehrmann any consent to having sex.
Lisa Wilkinson is also being sued, along with her employer.
Days and months following
In the next few days, the respondents claim that Ms Higgins made contemporaneous complaints to at least nine people, in which she “consistently described being raped or sexually assaulted by Mr Lehrmann in a manner consistent with the allegations in (this defence)”.
They included Ms Reynolds’ chief of staff, Fiona Brown, Ms Reynolds herself, Ms Higgins’ former partner, Ben Dillaway, Ms Reynolds’ departmental liaison officer, Chris Payne and her aide-de-comp, Captain Nikita Irvine.
She also complained to federal and ACT police.
The defence outlines what the respondents say is the comprehensive work that journalist Ms Maiden put into preparing the stories.
It notes the investigative journalist with more than 30 years of experience investigated, researched and wrote the stories.
It alleged Ms Maiden interviewed Ms Higgins face-to-face for several hours, received a list of people Ms Higgins had complained to, a timeline of events, a detailed account of Ms Higgins’ conversations, emails from police showing she had complained to them and various other emails, voice notes and texts.
It claimed Ms Maiden and News Life Media took care to moderate or avoid injury to Mr Lehrmann’s reputation by choosing not to name or describe him – and outlined the high public interest in the story.
Brittany Higgins outside court. Picture: David Gray/AFP
Mr Lehrmann is suing News Life Media and Ms Maiden over two articles published on news.com.au on or about February 15, 2021.
The first article was headlined “Young staffer Brittany Higgins says she was raped at Parliament House” and the second was titled “Parliament House alleged rape: How Brittany Higgins’ horror night unfolded”.
In his statement of claim, Mr Lehrmann alleged that, because of the stories, he “has been greatly injured in his personal and professional reputation and has been and will be brought into public disrepute, odium, ridicule and contempt”.
Mr Lehrmann alleged the coverage made these five defamatory imputations about him, all of which he says are false:
He raped Brittany Higgins in Defence Minister Linda Reynolds’ office in 2019.
He signed Brittany Higgins, who was drunk and did not have her security pass, into Parliament House so he could rape her.
He continued to rape her after she woke up mid-rape, told him to stop, and was crying.
While raping her, he crushed himself against her leg so forcefully that he bruised her.
After he finished raping her, he left her on a couch in a state of undress with her dress up around her waist.
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His defence claimed “the applicant was identifiable” by politicians, political assistants, staffers, journalists, family, friends and acquaintances, despite the fact the reports did not name Mr Lehrmann or describe him in a way that identified him.
Mr Lehrmann is yet to respond to the allegations in the defence.