Former Liberal staffer Bruce Lehrmann told security officers he had documents to pick up when he attended Parliament House with Brittany Higgins, but told his chief of staff he went to the office to “drink whiskey”, and later told police he was simply picking up his keys.
The ACT Supreme Court has heard evidence this week over the reasons Bruce Lehrmann offered about why he needed to return to parliament at 1.41am on March 23, 2019, following Friday night drinks.
He arrived at parliament at 1.40am and entered the office with Ms Higgins after a security officer unlocked the door at 1.48am and left the office without her at 2.31am the same morning.
Ms Higgins has accused Mr Lehrmann of raping her at Parliament House in the early hours of March 23, 2019.
He has pleaded not guilty. The court heard he told police in an interview in April 2021 when asked about Ms Higgins’ allegation she was raped that it “simply didn’t happen.”
In his opening address to the jury, Director of Public Prosecutions Shane Drumgold told the jury that he would argue Mr Lehrmann gave differing accounts of why he had chosen to attend parliament in the early hours of the morning and that he had “lied” about his reasons.
What Bruce Lehrmann told security when he arrived at 1.40am
During the first week of the trial, the jury was played audio of Mr Lehrmann speaking to Parliament House security via intercom on the night of the alleged assault.
“Hi mate, Bruce Lehrmann here with Minister Linda Reynolds. I have been requested to pick up some documents. I have forgotten my pass,” the court heard the accused saying in the audio.
A former security guard, Nikola Anderson, gave evidence on Monday. She said Mr Lehrmann and Ms Higgins arrived at Parliament House at 1.40am.
She recalls another security guard saying to them after Mr Lehrmann asked for entry on the intercom, “Oh guys, this is a bit odd. Couldn’t this have waited until Monday?’, and they
sort of went, ‘Oh, nah’.”
Prosecutor Shane Drumgold asked if her colleague had said, “Geez, you guys are here quite late. Couldn’t it have waited until Monday,” just in a joking manner.”
Guards grilled about when Mr Lehrmann left Parliament House
Security guard Nikola Anderson told the court that another security officer, Mark Fairweather, told her he saw the accused leaving.
“Mark had told me that something strange was happening, and I said, ‘What was that? My colleague had said to me that Mr Lehrmann had left 20 minutes after I – or approximately 20 minutes after I had let him into the suite. He seemed to be in a hurry to get out, sort of threw the pass at my colleague,’’ she said.
The security guard told the court she was later asked to do a welfare check on Ms Higgins and later found her naked on a couch in Senator Reynolds’ office.
Chief of staff said he told her he came to parliament to ‘drink whiskey’
Fiona Brown, the former chief of staff in the Defence Industry Minister’s office, gave evidence about how she learned of the late-night incident the following week and what happened when she asked Mr Lehrmann about it.
At the time, she initially did not know of any sexual assault allegation. She regarded it as a late-night entry to the office, which she believed represented a serious security breach.
When giving evidence on Tuesday, Ms Brown confirmed that during her meeting with Mr Lehrmann, he told her that he had come back to the office “to drink some whiskey”.
“I questioned that and said, ‘It seems a bit unusual to me. Who comes back to the office to drink whiskey?’” Ms Brown said. “He said, ‘Oh yes, people do it all the time,’ and I said, ‘Well, it’s not something I’ve heard of.’”
As a result, a formal letter was sent on April 5, terminating his employment.
‘I had to pick up my keys’: What Bruce Lehrmann told police
The court also heard Mr Lehrmann disagree with the “whiskey explanation” in his police interview, saying he did not have alcohol in the office and that wasn’t his reasoning for going back.
He told the police that he had returned to the office to get the keys to his apartment and, while there, ended up making some notes on some question time folders for the coming Monday.
Nicole Hamer tells court he did keep alcohol in his previous office
After that police interview was played to the jury this week, the prosecution called Nicole Hamer, a former Liberal staffer and journalist.
She told the Supreme Court, Mr Lehrmann was previously known to have “quite a big range of alcohol” in the office before Senator Reynolds moved into the new ministerial suite.
“There was spirits, there was whiskey, there was wine. It was quite a substantial amount,” Ms Hamer said.
However, she told the Supreme Court that she did not know whether Mr Lehrmann kept alcohol in his new office space.
She also revealed that she recalled Mr Lehrmann saying that Ms Higgins was attractive at the pub a few weeks before the alleged incident.
Previous security breach
His chief of staff Fiona Brown also revealed that the previous week, an issue arose where the departmental liaison officer for the Defence Department “alerted me to the mishandling of a protected code-worded document, and they had grave concerns about that”.
“They had received advice from an officer elsewhere in the ministerial wing, who was also another departmental person, who expressed grave concerns about that,” Ms Brown said.
“Bruce had been asked about the handling of the document. I think he just said he had returned the document but it hadn’t been sealed and all these things that occurred.
“The departmental officers advised me that the mishandling of this particular document would have been a sackable offence as a departmental employee.”
But on March 26, she was alerted to the late-night entry to the office. “And then some time later a security guard went up to the office to check on it, which was normal procedure, and found Brittany asleep on the Minister’s sofa.”
Mr Lehrmann: ‘I didn’t see her again’
The interviewing police officers informed Mr Lehrmann that Ms Higgins had reported an allegation to police that he had sexual intercourse with her without consent.
“Obviously, I reject that allegation because it simply didn’t happen,” the accused told police in the interview.
In the recorded interview, Mr Lehrmann told police that at some point after midnight, he informed the group that he was planning to leave and needed to stop in at Parliament House to grab his keys before he went home.
He said Ms Higgins indicated that she “also had to drop by parliament”, which is when he offered for them to share an Uber as they both needed to head to the office.
The court heard when the pair entered the ministerial office, Mr Lehrmann turned left to his desk and Ms Higgins turned right towards the minister’s suite.
Mr Lehrmann said he got what he needed for the weekend from his desk and also attended to some question time folders before ordering an Uber and leaving the building.
“I didn’t see her again,” the accused said in his police interview.