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The Canberra Times
The Canberra Times
Blake Foden

'Violated at every turn': Higgins blasts 'absolutely awful' police

Brittany Higgins and, inset, her social media post. Pictures by Karleen Minney, Instagram

Brittany Higgins has blasted the "absolutely awful" police who investigated her rape allegations, claiming they made her feel "violated at every turn".

The former Liberal Party staffer lashed out on Instagram on Wednesday, posting a scathing statement in response to an article that declared the careers of police officers had been "destroyed" by the case.

Her comments marked her first public statement since an inquiry into the abandoned case of Bruce Lehrmann, who denies raping Ms Higgins at Parliament House, made damning findings about Shane Drumgold SC and triggered the resignation of the ACT Director of Public Prosecutions.

The inquiry, led by Walter Sofronoff KC, cleared police of any misconduct but found officers had made mistakes that caused Ms Higgins unnecessary distress.

Outgoing Director of Public Prosecutions Shane Drumgold. Picture by Karleen Minney

These included subjecting Ms Higgins to an unnecessary second police interview, and mistakenly sending Mr Lehrmann's lawyers a brief of evidence that contained her confidential counselling notes.

The Australian responded with an article that said 13 police officers had told the publication of "the catastrophic damage to their lives and careers" as a result of the inquiry Mr Drumgold demanded.

But the newspaper did not quote any of them and instead ran a comment from their solicitor, Calvin Gnech, who said careers had been lost and reputations "severely damaged" unnecessarily.

'Private thoughts' disclosed

Brittany Higgins, who has lashed out at police. Picture by Karleen Minney

Ms Higgins disputed that assertion in her post on Wednesday, saying police had never wanted to charge Mr Lehrmann despite no party to the inquiry contending that the prosecution should not have happened.

She referred to police documents, in which senior officers questioned her credibility as they weighed up whether to charge Mr Lehrmann.

"They made a fun folder full of unfounded claims in a literal attempt to discredit me as a permissible rape victim to the office of the DPP," Ms Higgins wrote.

"They wrongly handed over my most private thoughts taken over years in counselling sessions at the Rape Crisis Centre to defence.

"And by Walter's own admission didn't know the threshold for charging in sexual offences."

Police 'disgraced': Higgins

Detective Superintendent Scott Moller Picture by Karleen Minney.

Ms Higgins reserved particular condemnation for an incident that occurred after she had completed her second police interview.

The inquiry heard five officers, including Detective Superintendent Scott Moller, were in a room with her.

According to ACT Victims of Crime Commissioner Heidi Yates, who was also there, the senior detective spoke in a "harsh" tone while telling Ms Higgins she had to "stop talking to the media".

Superintendent Moller denied to the inquiry that he had been "harsh", insisting he was being "honest" and "candid" about the risks publicity to the case at that stage of the police investigation.

He conceded Ms Higgins might have felt "scolded", but she said on Wednesday it had made her sick.

"These men were absolutely awful to me," she wrote on Instagram.

"They made me feel violated at every turn.

"I will always remember how small I felt having five senior police officers I've never met in a room belittling me - after I had just spent hours giving evidence in a second ... interview.

"They cast judgements about the merits of my advocacy and regularly reiterated the reasons why they thought that I shouldn't proceed with pressing charges.

"I do not celebrate the misfortune of others. However, these officers were disgraced by their conduct not by the DPP."

Notes error 'significant'

ACT chief police officer Neil Gaughan. Picture by Sitthixay Ditthavong

In his response to the inquiry's findings, chief police officer Neil Gaughan said ACT Policing had apologised "unreservedly" to Ms Higgins for the "significant error" with her counselling notes.

Deputy Commissioner Gaughan also said the force was committed to reform in accordance with the inquiry's recommendations, with the development of a guide about charging thresholds under way.

"Few professions carry the responsibility of policing and it's a responsibility we take very seriously," he said on Tuesday, describing the work of each officer involved in the case as diligent and compassionate.

ACT Policing made further comments on Wednesday, saying officers were encouraged to take periods of leave to maintain positive mental health and wellbeing.

The force said the impact of the investigation, trial and inquiry had been "individual to each officer".

"ACT Policing has provided a range of significant supports to officers during the investigation, trial and inquiry," a spokesman told The Canberra Times.

"Since 2019, a small number of officers have taken leave and ACT Policing has provided continuous support during this period.

"Every officer involved with the matter has retained employment with the [Australian Federal Police]."

'No winners': police union

Australian Federal Police Association president Alex Caruana. Picture by Dion Georgopoulos

Australian Federal Police Association president Alex Caruana also weighed in, saying ACT Policing had "done the right thing" by apologising to Ms Higgins and committing to changes.

Mr Caruana urged the community to "be mindful of hurtful allegations towards all parties involved in the investigation and inquiry".

"There are no winners from this investigation and inquiry," the police union boss said.

"This investigation and subsequent inquiry have hurt and damaged many people.

"In a perfect world, that wouldn't happen, but as we all sadly know, a perfect world isn't reality."

Mr Caruana said he and the rest of the association would continued to stand by the members who were part of the investigation team.

"We know these people and how much of an impact this has had on them and their families," he said.

"They are all passionate about being police officers, protecting the community and putting people before a judicial process if required."

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