Brittany Higgins: Michaelia Cash grilled in Bruce Lehrmann rape trial

Liberal Senator Linda Reynolds has been grilled on the witness stand in the trial for the man accused of raping Brittany Higgins in Parliament House.

Bruce Lehrmann is accused of sexually assaulting the former Liberal staffer in the former defence minister’s office in the early hours of March 23, 2019.

Mr Lehrmann has pleaded not guilty to one charge of sexual intercourse without consent.

The jury has been told the trial, which today enters its third week in the ACT Supreme Court, will likely wrap up this week.

The prosecution is expected to close its case by Tuesday, significantly reducing the initial four to six-week timeline for the trial.

Reynolds ‘didn’t know’ of rape allegation when she called Higgins

Former defence minister Linda Reynolds has told the ACT Supreme Court that she did not know of a sexual assault allegation when she called Brittany Higgins to her office on April 1, 2019, to discuss a later night security incident.

While being grilled on the witness stand, Senator Reynolds said she “completely rejected” a suggestion she had gone into the meeting concerned about how it could impact the upcoming election.

Senator Reynolds told the court that the election was “imminent” when the issue arose and she was dealing with what she believed was a security incident.

“I asked Ms Higgins about the incident. She was very apologetic. She was very embarrassed,’’ she said.

“She also indicated that it was not the right thing to do and she didn’t want to lose her job.

“She explained she was very drunk and she couldn’t remember what happened that night.

“She mentioned that she got dressed. It was at this point she became distressed.

“That’s when I said to her, that as her boss, I am not a trained counsellor, I am not the person to be having this conversation with her.”

Prosecutor Shane Drumgold suggested to Senator Reynolds that she did know that Ms Higgins had told Ms Brown she had woken up to find Mr Lehrmann “on top of her” before she had the meeting.

Senator Reynolds rejected this assertion.

Senator Reynolds told the court after their meteting, Ms Higgins was then taken by the chief of staff Fiona Brown to see the police at Parliament House.

Mr Drumgold then asked if her job was at risk. “No,’’ Senator Reynolds said.

Senator Reynold said that on that Thursday of that first week, Ms Brown mentioned that she had further discussions with Ms Higgins.

“She was concerned about her behaviour. She seemed to be distressed,’’ Senator Reynolds said.

“She said Ms Higgins wanted to go to the doctor.

“Ms Brown became concerned by her demeanour. She was becoming upset.”

Senator Reynolds said she was “strongly supportive” of Ms Higgins going to the doctor.

But she said Ms Brown did not give her any specifics over what Ms Higgins had said or why she was upset, saying she was still concerned on the Friday or the Saturday.

“My understanding is Ms Brown texted Ms Higgins,’’ she said.

“I recall that she told Ms Brown that her father was coming down. So I asked Ms Brown to invite her father. My chief of staff was concerned about her.

“In my mind this was still a security incident.”

Mr Drumgold then asked Senator Reynolds, “Did you inquire why she might be upset?”

Senator Reynolds said at that stage she still thought it was about the security incident.

Asked if she asked Ms Brown before the meeting on April 1 why Ms Higgins might be upset, Senator Reynolds said “No.”

Senator Reynolds has told the jury she told Ms Higgins she was “not the right person to be talking to” when she became distressed during their meeting.

Ms Higgins apologised to the senator for the security breach and indicated she did not want to lose her job, Senator Reynolds told the court.

She said she indicated to Ms Higgins that her job was not at risk, with the staffer then going on to explain that she was “very drunk and couldn’t remember what happened that night”.

“In the course of saying that she did mention to me that she woke up the next morning and mentioned she got dressed,” Senator Reynolds said.

She said it was at this point that Ms Higgins became distressed and she told her she was “not the right person to be talking to”.

Instead, Senator Reynolds suggested Ms Higgins have a conversation with somebody “more qualified” and said she should speak with the AFP.

‘It’s not true’: Reynolds hits back over political interest

Senator Reynolds has rejected the suggestion she held a political interest going into her meeting with her on April 1, 2019.

Mr Drumgold suggested that Senator Reynolds’ “dominant concern” going into that meeting was the outcome of the election and how this could impact that.

“I categorically and utterly reject that assertion,” Senator Reynolds said.

“It’s not true.”

Minister says ‘highly unusual’ incident reported to PM’s office

Senator Reynolds has revealed that when she learnt of what she believed to be a security breach involving Brittany Higgins and Bruce Lehrmann in 2019 that the Prime Minister’s office was notified.

She described the decision of two staff to come into the office at 1.40 am as “highly unusual” and not appropriate.

Senator Reynolds said she was not initially aware of any allegation of a sexual assault.

The former Liberal minister arrived in court at 2.49 pm wearing a coral pink jacket and took an oath on the bible.

“When did you first become aware of the events of the night of March the 22nd?’’ Crown Prosecutor, Shane Drumgold asked.

“It was the Tuesday. I was up in Brisbane. I remember it very well,’’ Senator Reynolds said.

“I received a call from Fiona Brown that she had been advised of a very serious security incident involving two staff members.

“I recall being very shocked. I asked for further information from Ms Brown. We had a series of phone calls.”

She confirmed that after she took over the Defence Industry office following the reshuffle she moved offices and some staff — including Ms Higgins — who worked in Mr Ciobo’s office came to work for her in the new portfolio.

During that period, known as the deferment period, the staff automatically lost their jobs when the minister departed but could reapply for jobs in other offices.

“It is quite brutal for staff,’’ she said.

She told the court that the accused, Bruce Lehrmann, came with her to the new office in 2019, after working with her in the previous portfolio.

She did not re-employ Mr Lehrmann which meant he was already expected to leave before the security incident prompted his employment to be formally terminated.

‘Political suicide’: Senator grilled over ‘deniability’

Earlier, Senator Cash was questioned by the prosecution over Ms Higgins’ claims that she had revealed her sexual assault allegations to the senator prior to February 5th, 2021.

The court heard Senator Cash rejected the suggestion that she had been told about the allegations prior to this date, saying up until then she believed the issue was purely a security breach.

She told the court she did not know there was a “sexual element” to the situation until February 2021.

Mr Drumgold, asked Senator Cash whether it could potentially be “politically embarrassing” to the government if the sexual assault allegations were made public.

“Absolutely not,” she responded.

“I don’t know how it could be politically embarrassing. It would be something that needed to be attended to.”

When asked if the situation being made public could be “politically harmful”, the senator once again said “absolutely not”.

“I just don’t understand the political connection to this,” she said.

Senator Cash was then asked by Mr Drumgold if she was aware of the term “plausible deniability”.

She asked this question to be put into context and then told the crown prosecutor: “I don’t understand what you are trying to ask me”.

Mr Drumgold suggested that Senator Cash was denying she had been made aware of the assault allegations prior to February 2021 because it would be politically embarrassing.

“Absolutely not,” she said.

“I just don’t understand the line of questioning in relation to political embarrassment.

Mr Lehrmann’s lawyer, Steven Whybrow, then suggested to Ms Cash it would be “political suicide” to try and cover up the sexual assault of a staff member.

“Correct. Hence my confusion with the previous line of questioning,” she said.

Senator Cash then claimed when she had spoken with Ms Higgins in October 2019 in relation to the security breach in Senator Reynolds’ office, the former staffer was “adamant that the entire matter had been dealt with at the time”.

‘Super f**ked up’: Higgins texted MP about incident

Queensland Liberal MP Sam O’Connor has told the ACT Supreme Court that Brittany Higgins disclosed to him in April 2019 that she was raped in a cabinet minister’s office.

Ms Higgins worked for Mr O’Connor as a volunteer in 2018 before taking up a job in Liberal frontbencher Steven Ciobo’s office later that year.

Mr O’Connor told the court today that he believed Ms Higgins had “alluded” to an incident in text messages in late March, 2019, telling him of a “super f**ked up” incident before disclosing what she said happened.

Read Samantha Maiden’s full story here

Reynolds said incident ‘wasn’t Brittany’s fault’: Cash chief of staff

Senator Cash’s chief of staff, Daniel Try has taken the stand saying Senator Linda Reynolds said the March 2019 incident at the centre of a media inquiry “wasn’t Brittany’s fault”.

Mr Try told the court that he received a call from Senator Reynolds’ in October 2019 after her office received a media inquiry relating to Ms Higgins.

Mr Try said he said the senator indicated she would be sending someone from her office over to speak with Ms Higgins, but didn’t go into any details about the media inquiry other than it related to an incident that occurred while she was employed by Senator Reynolds.

“What I do remember, I think she said the incident wasn’t Brittany’s fault,” he said.

After this phone call, Mr Try then called Ms Higgins into his office and told her a media inquiry had come through relating to an incident that occurred while she was working for Senator Reynolds.

“Brittany looked quite upset when I told her,” he said.

Mr Try told the court he was getting “very little” pieces of information when Ms Higgins met with Senator Reynolds’ employee, other than it was a security issue that related to two staff members returning to Parliament House late one night.

He said he “wasn’t being told the full story of the allegation”.

“I think she suggested that the security found her and I interpreted this to mean she was passed out or in some sort of dishevelled state,” he told the court.

Mr Try has told the court that Ms Higgins made an inquiry about Mr Lehrmann in 2020, after she had seen on social media that he was in Canberra.

The chief of staff told the court that Ms Higgins had asked whether Mr Lehrmann had a parliamentary pass, indicating she was concerned about seeing him around the building.

Mr Try said he inquired about this and found out Mr Lehrmann did not have a pass, which he then relayed to Ms Higgins.

“If he did have a pass I don’t know what I really could have done about it,” he said.

Senator takes the stand

Earlier Senator Cash appeared to the court from a remote location.

Ms Higgins began working for Senator Cash after the 2019 Federal Election and worked for her until 2021.

The Senator told the court that she only became aware of Ms Higgins’ claim she had been assaulted by Mr Lehrmann on the February 5, 2021.

Ms Higgins has consistently claimed that she had multiple conversations with Senator Cash about her allegations.

Senator Cash said she had a conversation with Ms Higgins about a past security breach in Senator Linda Reynolds office after they received a media inquiry in October 2019.

Senator Cash told the court that Ms Higgins was “embarrassed” as the security breach was in relation to herself.

She said the breach was in relation to Ms Higgins and another staffer returning to Senator Reynolds office once evening after they had been out drinking.

The court heard Senator Cash say she understood they were “potentially intoxicated” at the time.

She said Ms Higgins had subsequently “fallen asleep on the couch” in Senator Reynolds’ office and she had been found by security the next day.

Brittany concerned about ‘well-connected’ accused

The court has heard Brittany Higgins was concerned about Bruce Lehrmann’s connections within the workplace and how it could affect her employment.

Detective Senior Constable Sarah Harman took to the witness stand on Monday, with the jury told Ms Higgins was referred to the AFP’s Sexual Assault and Child Abuse team in April of 2019.

Ms Harman said when they spoke, Ms Higgins expressed that she was concerned about work and Mr Lehrmann’s standing in the workplace as he was “fairly well connected and he had been there some time”.

“She seemed fairly nervous to be meeting with police,” she said, but added that Ms Higgins also seemed to be “relieved” to be getting some information about the process moving forward.

Ms Harman told the court that she also had a conversation with Ms Higgins about whether protection was used during the alleged assault, with the complainant indicating she didn’t know whether it had been used or not.

“She told me the clothes she wore on the evening were in a bag and she would keep them that way,” she said.

Senators to take the stand

Ms Reynolds, who was Defence Industry Minister at the time of the alleged incident, is expected to take the witness stand this week.

An updated witness list, which was sent out by the court last week, also suggests that Senator Michaelia Cash, who Ms Higgins worked for until 2021, may be called to give evidence.

Ms Higgins’ partner David Sharaz and Ms Cash’s former chief of staff Daniel Try are also listed to be called to give evidence.

Ms Higgins completed her evidence on Friday after returning to the witness stand following a four-day absence.

During that time, multiple witnesses took the stand, including Ms Higgins’ mother, her ex-boyfriend and Parliament House security guards.

However, a non-publication order kept their evidence from being published until Friday afternoon.

The court was also played an interview between Mr Lehrmann and police, recorded in April 2021.

In the interview, as well as addressing Ms Higgins’ allegations, Mr Lehrmann was questioned about his purpose for entering parliament that night, and said he had thoughts of self-harm after hearing about the allegations.

The interviewing police officers informed Mr Lehrmann that Ms Higgins had reported an allegation to police that he had engaged in sexual intercourse with her without consent.

“Obviously I reject that allegation because it simply didn’t happen,” the accused told police in the interview.

The trial continues.

Brittany Higgins: Michaelia Cash grilled in Bruce Lehrmann rape trial Source link Brittany Higgins: Michaelia Cash grilled in Bruce Lehrmann rape trial

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