Brittany Higgins trial: ‘Deeply insulting’ question that made former staffer breakdown

Tensions were high in the ACT Supreme Court on Friday as Brittany Higgins faced a barrage of questions during the trial for the man accused of raping her at Parliament House.

Ms Higgins alleges Bruce Lehrmann sexually assaulted her in the ministerial office of Linda Reynolds in the early hours of March 23, 2019.

He has pleaded not guilty to a single charge of sexual intercourse without consent.

Mr Lehrmann’s lawyer, Steven Whybrow, entered a line of questioning on the final day of the first week that caused Ms Higgins to breakdown on the witness stand.

The jury heard that in the days following her alleged assault, Ms Higgins sent a text message to her former chief of staff, Fiona Brown, asking for a day off so she could go see a doctor.

In her previous evidence, Ms Higgins told the court Ms Brown was the first person she had told about the alleged assault.

The court heard the former Liberal staffer never attended the GP appointment, with Mr Whybrow stating the reason for this was that she “hadn’t had sex with anyone on Friday night consensual or otherwise”.

“That’s not true,” Ms Higgins said.

Mr Whybrow continued, suggesting she told Ms Brown she needed to go to the doctor to “bolster your false accusation that something non-consensual had happened with Mr Lehrmann”.

“Nothing that you are saying right now is true whatsoever and it’s deeply insulting,” Ms Higgins replied.

The court also heard Ms Higgins had told her ex-partner, Ben Dillaway, that she had visited a GP in the wake of the assault, though she did not.

The jury heard Mr Whybrow suggest Ms Higgins said this to “bolster him believing that you had had some non-consensual activity”.

“Do you agree or disagree with that,” the defence lawyer asked.

“I completely disagree with everything you are saying,” Ms Higgins said.

Mr Whybrow continued with the line of questioning, suggesting the reason she didn’t follow through with any of the GP appointments is because she “hadn’t had sexual intercourse with Mr Lehrmann”.

“You are so incorrect. I don’t know if you’ve ever gone through a trauma before but confronting it head on with professionals is a really difficult thing to do,” Ms Higgins said, becoming visibly upset.

“I’d slowly started telling my inner circle of friends. It was very, very hard. I was bed bound. I was doing my best in extremely trying circumstances.

“I completely reject everything you’re saying.”

Higgins questioned over text to ex

Earlier on Friday, Mr Whybrow questioned her about the text message she sent to Mr Dillaway on March 27, 2019, four days after the alleged assault.

In the message, the jury heard Ms Higgins told Mr Dillaway that she was “doing fine” and went to see a GP.

Ms Higgins told the court she had the intention of going to the doctor but found herself unable to follow through with the appointments.

“I was placating an ex-boyfriend. I was going to do the right thing. I intended to do the right thing but every time I went home I was collapsing and unable to get out of bed because I was so deeply depressed because I had been assaulted at work by a colleague,” she said, becoming emotional as she finished her sentence.

Ms Higgins was seen grabbing a tissue from the box in front of her.

When Mr Whybrow asked if Ms Higgins would she like a break, she responded “I’m fine”.

The former Liberal staffer told the court that she was “struggling” on Friday morning, as cross examination from Mr Lehrmann’s lawyer continued.

Mr Whybrow said Ms Higgins had asserted in a number of places, including a timeline she prepared for police in 2021, that she had met with police before April 1, 2019.

The defence suggested to Ms Higgins that it was after her meeting with Senator Linda Reynolds on April 1 that she had contact with anyone from the federal police.

The court heard Ms Higgins say she was “dealing with the trauma of post rape” in the two-week period leading up to her flying to Perth ahead of the 2019 Federal Election.

“I’m doing my best and I’m trying to be as honest and forthright as I can,” she said. “But I am struggling a little and I admit that freely.”

CCTV causes Higgins to breakdown

It has been an emotional week for Ms Higgins, who was seen breaking into tears when CCTV footage of the night of her alleged sexual assault was played before the court.

The video showed Ms Higgins and Mr Lehrmann walking through security at Parliament House in the early hours of March 23, 2019.

When asked how high her level of intoxication was at the time the footage was taken, Ms Higgins said she didn’t “remember any of this so it was very high”.

The CCTV showed Ms Higgins walking through the security at 1.46am and appearing to struggle to put her shoes back on.

At this point, Ms Higgins became visibly upset on the witness stand and began crying.

She confirmed it was the second time she had been shown this footage, with the first being during her second police interview in May of 2021.

During the week, Ms Higgins gave evidence stating the night of the alleged assault was the drunkest she had ever been and that her memory of the night was “patchy”.

Ms Higgins described feeling like a “prop” as she gave graphic details of how the alleged assault occurred.

The jury were shown pictures of inside the office where the alleged assault occurred, which belonged to her former boss Senator Linda Reynolds.

The court was shown close up photos of the lounge on which Ms Higgins claims she was raped by Mr Lehrmann.

The grey lounge was located directly in front of the desk of Senator Reynolds.

When asked where she was positioned on the couch at the time of the alleged assault, Ms Higgins said she was “jammed up into the corner” in between the headrest and armrest.

Ms Higgins told the court her legs were “spread open” and she was “fully exposed”.

“I was like a prop pinned into that corner,” a visibly upset Ms Higgins told the court.

Higgins cross examined over dress claim

Mr Whybrow questioned the former staffer about the dress she was wearing on the night of the alleged assault.

Mr Whybrow referred to a claim made by Ms Higgins on Thursday that she had placed the dress in a bag under her bed for a period of six months unwashed.

The court had earlier heard that after this period of time Ms Higgins had washed the dress and wore it once more.

During the cross examination, Mr Whybrow asked whether this event was a dinner on May 15, 2019 for Senator Reynolds’ birthday in Perth.

Mr Whybrow pointed out that Ms Higgins had said the dress had remained under her bed for six months, though she was shown wearing it in a photograph from the dinner less than two months after the alleged assault.

“It stayed under my bed for a particular period of time. I was wrong for saying it was six months. But it stayed under my bed unwashed for a period of time,” Ms Higgins told the court.

Mr Whybrow suggested Ms Higgins was not wrong but instead was “not giving true and correct evidence”, the court heard.

“I made a mistake. I was just wrong,” Ms Higgins said.

When asked why she chose to take the dress to Perth with her when she was working for Senator Reynolds in the lead up to the Federal election, Ms Higgins said she was “reclaiming my agency”.

“It may sound ridiculous to you,” she told Mr Whybrow.

Ms Higgins said it was an “empowerment thing” and she wanted to reclaim her agency in the dress she had worn on the night of the alleged assault.

The jury heard Mr Whybrow say it sounded “completely inconsistent with your evidence”.

The trial continues on Monday, with Ms Higgins expected to return to the witness stand for further cross examination from Mr Lehrmann’s lawyer.

Ms Higgins is the first of 58 names listed on the potential witness list, with the trial expected to run between four and six weeks.

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