A decision to publicly suggest a political conspiracy was afoot in the Bruce Lehrmann case has been called into question during a blunt cross-examination of the ACT’s top prosecutor.
Director of Public Prosecutions Shane Drumgold SC was grilled by counsel for the Australian Federal Police about his claim during the fifth day of an inquiry into how criminal justice agencies handled Brittany Higgins’ rape allegation against her former colleague.
Mr Drumgold told the hearing on Wednesday that a series of “strange events” led him to believe there was political pressure to “make the matter go away”.
But just a day later he hosed down his suspicion, saying that he accepted he was wrong to say a political conspiracy was “probable” having read “all” statements tendered to the inquiry.
DPP Shane Drumgold was grilled about his earlier claim of a political conspiracy.
On Friday, Mr Drumgold withdrew any suggestion of political interference between federal ministers, the AFP commissioner and ACT Policing during the case.
Counsel Kate Richardson SC repeatedly questioned Mr Drumgold over why he did not put his fears that a government minister had pressured the top cop to AFP Commissioner Reece Kershaw directly.
“I want to suggest to you that the reason why this possible conspiracy (was) not in your continuous file note, not in your complaint letter … was not in your witness statement is because there was no rational basis to conclude from the underlying facts you relied on that such a conspiracy was even a possibility,” she asked.
“I agree that it was a possibility. I was not willing to commit to writing nature of it because I didn’t know the nature of it,” Mr Drumgold responded.
“I was asking the question of whether there was a connection between the federal government and the Territory and ACT Policing.”
Kate Richardson SC took issue with Mr Drumgold’s statement.
Asked whether he had read Mr Kershaw’s witness statement before he made the allegation, Mr Drumgold could not recall.
“I’m not being tricky … All has to be qualified by all the statements I had,” he said.
Mr Drumgold first raised concerns about “political and police conduct” during the investigation and trial in a scathing letter he sent to ACT Chief of Police Neil Gaughan last November that sparked the inquiry.
In the letter, Mr Drumgold outlined his suspicions about the behaviour of police and witnesses, including Liberal senators Linda Reynolds and Michaelia Cash, which he repeated on Wednesday.
But Mr Drumgold referred to his state of mind at the time he penned the letter to Mr Gaughan.
Chair Walter Sofronoff KC pressed Mr Drumgold on why he did not qualify that at the time.
“Don’t you think that to state publicly that you hold that suspicion is an extremely grave matter because people would rightly take very seriously what you say,” he asked.
Mr Drumgold has been questioned for five days. Picture: NCA NewsWire / Martin Ollman
“I was not saying, ‘Here I sit today, I hold in my mind a possibility’,” Mr Drumgold responded.
“I accept I probably should’ve injected the addendum.”
Mr Drumgold added it was “not obvious” to him that his answer would have suggested he still held the belief a political conspiracy was possible.
Speaking in parliament on Thursday, Senator Reynolds rejected any suggestion she interfered in the case.
“This baseless suggestion was without any, any foundation,” she said.
“It should never, ever have come to this. It is baffling and it is disturbing that this view was offered under oath yesterday.”
The breakdown of the relationship between the DPP and police throughout the investigation and trial has been central to the inquiry.
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 charge.
Mr Drumgold’s questioning continues.