One of the most senior police involved in the investigation of Brittany Higgins’ rape allegation has admitted that providing her private counselling notes to the defence legal team and prosecutors “was a mistake”.
In his first day of evidence, Detective Superintendent Scott Moller also revealed investigators initially didn’t think there was enough evidence to charge Bruce Lehrmann – who maintains his innocence.
But he told the inquiry he was subsequently personally convinced by the DPP Shane Drumgold that “reasonable suspicion” of a crime was present. Mr Lehrmann was never convicted of the crime and the charges were dropped after the first trial was aborted.
The disclosure of the counselling notes is now the subject of a probe by both the Sofronoff inquiry and the Australian Commission for Law Enforcement Integrity.
Superintendent Scott Moller has defended the decision to hand over the notes as done in “good faith” and said it was offered in the spirit of “full disclosure” and being honest with the prosecution and the defence.
Detective Superintendent Scott Moller told the inquiry he was personally convinced by the DPP Shane Drumgold that “reasonable suspicion” of a crime was present. Picture: NCA NewsWire/Martin Ollman
“From my perspective, full disclosure. It’s about transparency and making sure that we’re not holding anything back, trying to be completely open, honest,’’ he said.
However, he now conceded this should not have occurred.
“Look, we shouldn’t have given them and that’s that, that’s the bottom line we shouldn’t have handed them over,’’ he said.
“And it’s a mistake that we made.”
Superintendent Moller said that he swore the summons for Mr Lehrmann to appear in court because he knew his investigators had doubts about charging.
“I swore the summons because I did not want to put any of my staff in the position where they had to do something they didn’t want to do, you know, didn’t believe in so I did it,’’ he said.
Counsel assisting Joshua Jones then asked him whether after receiving the DPP’s advice on the threshold to charge that he changed his mind and he agreed.
“Yeah, absolutely. I mean, I didn’t think there was enough evidence and then I received the director’s advice,’’ he said.
Mr Jones said the threshold to charge was “incredibly low”, which Mr Sofronoff disputed, but the inquiry heard that Superintendent Moller accepted there was sufficient grounds to charge.
Superintendent Moller is the author of the so-called Moller report which outlined police concerns and the fact that police feared “political pressure” without explaining who he was talking about.
The disclosure of Higgins’ counselling notes is subject of a probe by both the Sofronoff inquiry and the Australian Commission for Law Enforcement Integrity. Picture: NCA NewsWire/Gary Ramage
He told the inquiry today that the pressure wasn’t coming from one person and was generalised.
“I’m just talking about general pressure. I mean, there was just a real desire to expedite this process and get Mr Lehrmann before the court. And you know, that wasn’t saying that from any one person in particular but collectively, the public, the media, you know my own organisation, there was a desire to get this progressed,’’ he said.
“You held a view that the evidence was insufficient to substantiate a charge prior to briefing the Director of Public Prosecutions?’’ counsel assisting the inquiry Joshua Jones asked.
“Yes, that’s right,’’ Detective Supt Scott Moller replied.
“And that was a collective view also held by your investigators and expressed to you?” Mr Jones said.
“Yeah, absolutely. Yep. The investigators definitely had not reached the threshold in their mind,’’ Superintendent Moller said.
Superintendent Moller also confirmed that when investigators first met with the DPP they didn’t think they had enough information to charge.
“I think it’s really important for everybody to understand the amount of pressure that was on the investigation team, all of us to get this done,’’ he said.
“You know, we had a significant amount of external pressure from the media. We had, you know, we had Ms Higgins that was, you know, wanting this to proceed. We had internal pressure that, you know, we needed to get this done. So there was a significant amount of pressure on us.”
Detective Superintendent Scott Moller said that he was passionate about tackling sexual violence in the community.
Detective Superintendent Scott Moller also revealed investigators initially didn’t think there was enough evidence to charge Bruce Lehrmann. Picture: NCA NewsWire/Martin Ollman
“It’s a horrendous crime. And it’s something that, you know, certainly I’m very passionate about and the people that work for me are very passionate about. If the complainant doesn’t wish the investigation to continue, or the prosecution to progress, doesn’t mean that police stop.
“Police and the investigation team are very committed to collecting all the perishable evidence and storing that just in case that complainant changes his or her mind down the track.”
Earlier, Mr Sofronoff issued a ‘please explain’ to The Australian newspaper over the publication of a photograph of the Director of Public Prosecutions Shane Drumgold enjoying a beer in his driveway.
“On the 19th of May, The Australian newspaper published a photograph of Mr Drumgold. He was at home in relaxed clothing, in apparent privacy having a beer and someone took a photograph of him without his knowledge, and then published the photo with an ironic caption “Crown Lager or Drumgold Bitter – Prosecutor calls beer o’clock,’’ Mr Sofronoff said.
“I’m stumped, trying to think of a proper purpose for doing this. Hiding to take a photo of a man who thinks he’s enjoying privacy and then publishing the photo with a put down. But my real worry is that the witnesses who have been willing to help me will think that this is part of the price of being stopped at their home, photographed, taken unawares, being made fun of in the national media.”
Mr Sofronoff said his concern was if that was the “personal cost, why would anybody willingly be a part of this?”
“This kind of publication risks interfering with the course of my inquiry, it risks interfering with my ability to fulfil my statutory duty,’’ he said.
“On the other hand, if the publication of a photo of this kind serves a proper purpose, then we all have to live with its consequences. Some people, as I say, they’re going to get hurt by this inquiry and in an unavoidable way.
“With these thoughts in mind, I’ve written to the editor of The Australian today, seeking her help to understand the purpose, which the photo was used for, and I’ll consider my course when I get a response.”
Mr Sofronoff then went on to raise concerns over the use of the adjective “bizarre” by Mr Drumgold’s barrister Mark Tedeschi SC.
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Dr Peggy Dwyer counsel for Heidi Yates also raised concerns about Bruce Lehrmann’s defence barrister Steve Whybrow SC being interviewed by The Weekend Australian newspaper.
“In my respectful submission, that a witness in these proceedings who has finished his evidence, then appears to have given an interview with the Australian newspaper over the weekend, where he was critical of other witnesses who have not yet come before this inquiry, in my respectful submission … the commissioner would be concerned about the integrity of this inquiry being compromised in those circumstances.”