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Brittany Higgins told police Bruce Lehrmann ‘made a pass’ at her weeks before alleged rape, court hears

Former Liberal Party staffer Bruce Lehrmann leaves the ACT Supreme Court in Canberra, Wednesday, October 5, 2022
Former Liberal party staffer Bruce Lehrmann has denied allegations he raped Brittany Higgins at Parliament House on 23 March 2019. Photograph: Mick Tsikas/AAP

Brittany Higgins told police that Bruce Lehrmann “made a pass” at her during a work event just weeks before she alleges he raped her inside Parliament House, a Canberra court has been told.

Higgins faced Lehrmann in court for the first time on Wednesday when she took to the witness stand.

The 16-person jury was shown CCTV of the night in March 2019 when Higgins became “as drunk as she had ever been in her life” before the alleged rape in the early hours of the next morning at Parliament House.

The footage showed Higgins at the Dock bar in Canberra, where she consumed about 10 or 11 drinks with a group of public servants and political staffers from about 7.22pm to 11.51pm.

Before the group left to go to another bar, the footage showed Higgins consuming her final drink “in one gulp”, as ACT director of public prosecutions, Shane Drumgold SC, put it. “I believe the colloquial parlance is a skoll,” he said.

“I haven’t done it [skolling a drink] as an adult,” Higgins told the court.

Higgins has alleged she was raped by Lehrmann, who was then her colleague, in the early hours of 23 March 2019. Lehrmann has denied the allegations and pleaded not guilty to one charge of sexual assault without consent.

The second day of Lehrmann’s trial saw jurors watch two police interviews recorded with Higgins in February and May last year.

In the second interview, Higgins alleged that just weeks before the alleged assault, Lehrmann tried to kiss her during a night out with colleagues from then-defence industries minister Linda Reynolds’ office.

She told police that Lehrmann “made a pass” at her as the two left the Kingston Hotel in Canberra. However, she “didn’t think it was a big deal at the time” because “I’d had other people in politics make passes at me”.

“I just rebuffed him because I wasn’t interested,” she said in the recorded interview.

Higgins said that at the time she believed it was a “mixed signals kind of thing” and had not told people about it because she “didn’t want to embarrass him”. “I just ignored it … people try to take shots [or] whatever, and he tried and I said no,” she said.

Asked in court about the alleged attempted kiss, Higgins said she had rebuffed Lehrmann “mostly out of shock”.

“I wasn’t anticipating it and at that point, he left. We didn’t have a long-form exchange after the attempt, I think he was kind of embarrassed and I think he left,” she said.

Earlier, jurors had watched the first police interview from February 2021, in which Higgins described feeling “trapped” and “not human” during the alleged rape. She alleged she had woken to find Lehrmann “grunting” on top of her after the night out.

“I told him no. I told him to stop,” she said in the interview. “It felt like I was on repeat [but] at that point, I don’t know why, but it felt like it was going on for a while [and] it was an afterthought. I was suddenly there and it didn’t matter.”

Higgins described disclosing the allegations to Fiona Brown, the chief of staff to her then boss Reynolds, in the days following. She told police that was “when the gears shifted and it became less about me and more political”.

In the second interview with police, she broke down in tears while telling police about her fears of the “party implications” of the alleged rape.

The court heard Higgins telling officers she had “made it hard” to verify key details by having conversations in person and using encrypted messaging apps because she was “scared of coming forward”.

Higgins cried while explaining she had paid cash for a doctor’s appointment after the 2019 election to deal with the “mental implications” of the alleged rape.

Higgins told officers she had been “really cognisant of all the party implications all the way through”.

“Because of the pressure I was feeling, I made it hard for myself,” she said in the recorded interview.

“I would have conversations in person, I spoke on WhatsApp – [it was] so naturally ingrained because I was so scared of coming forward. I think I made it harder for myself in hindsight … I made it a lot harder for myself to verify … it was so stupid.”

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