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The Guardian - AU
The Guardian - AU
Nino Bucci and Christopher Knaus

ACT inquiry finds decision to prosecute Bruce Lehrmann was justified but DPP failed in key areas

Former Liberal staffer Bruce Lehrmann
An ACT inquiry has found that police and the DPP acted appropriately in bringing charges against former Liberal staffer Bruce Lehrmann. Photograph: Mick Tsikas/AAP

Police had enough evidence to charge Bruce Lehrmann with the rape of Brittany Higgins, but the ACT director of public prosecutions failed in several key duties and made “untrue” statements before a court, an inquiry has found.

Sources with knowledge of the findings of the inquiry, which was established by the ACT government to investigate Lehrmann’s prosecution, confirmed to Guardian Australia that it found the charge was right to proceed.

The finding does not establish Lehrmann’s guilt or innocence, just that the police and the DPP acted appropriately in bringing charges. Higgins alleged Lehrmann, a former colleague, raped her in Parliament House in 2019. Lehrmann, who pleaded not guilty to one count of sexual intercourse without consent, has always denied the allegation of rape and no findings have been made against him.

Lehrmann was tried by the ACT supreme court in October but a mistrial was declared due to juror misconduct.

Prosecutors later dropped the charges against him because of fears about the impact a second trial would have on Higgins’s mental health.

Guardian Australia understands the report also found the ACT DPP, Shane Drumgold, breached his duties on multiple occasions, including in statements made before the ACT supreme court chief justice, Lucy McCallum, in a pre-trial court hearing.

The final report by Walter Sofronoff KC was delivered on Monday to the ACT government, which said it planned to spend at least a month considering its findings before releasing it publicly.

But the Australian published a story on Thursday which it said was based on a copy of the report.

The ACT government has declined to release it, despite the leak and widespread publication of the findings.

An ACT government spokesperson said the report and the government’s response would be released and tabled in local parliament at the end of the month.

“The ACT government received the report on Monday and has commenced the cabinet process that we outlined last week,” the spokesperson said.

Lehrmann said he had not seen a full copy of the report. But he described the reported findings as “overwhelming and alarming reading”.

“Much of what we are reading my brilliant criminal defence team led by Steve Whybrow SC suspected all along,” he said. “I owe everything to the lawyers who have surrounded me. This is overwhelming and alarming reading. It is a credit to Mr Sofronoff and his team for pulling back the covers and exposing what really is a dark chapter for the ACT justice system.”

Lehrmann said he would have more to say when the full report was made public. Whybrow also declined to comment until seeing a final copy of the report.

Drumgold was approached for comment. The office of ACT attorney general, Shane Rattenbury, referred questions to the chief minister, Andrew Barr.

Higgins alleged Lehrmann, a former colleague, raped her in Parliament House in 2019.

On Monday, Higgins again voiced her concerns about the ongoing leaking of her private communications, which, according to her lawyers, have been used in reporting by the Australian and other media outlets since last year.

The source of the leaked material remains unclear, and lawyers for Lehrmann have denied he is involved.

The independent board of inquiry chaired by Sofronoff heard little evidence about the leaked messages.

This is despite its terms of reference including inquiring into whether any police officers breached their duties by improperly providing information to people in relation to Lehrmann’s trial, and “any matter reasonably incidental” to this issue.

There is no evidence the leaks came from police, and officers who investigated Lehrmann denied they had any improper dealings with the media, according to statements provided to the inquiry.

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