Bruce Lehrmann, Brittany Higgins: AFP agent reveals Higgins’ account of night of rape claim

Brittany Higgins tearfully told a colleague that she could not have consented to sex with Bruce Lehrmann because “it would have been like ‘f**king a log’” in the days after the incident.

Former departmental liaison officer Chris Payne, a senior public servant with a top secret security clearance, has given evidence in the Federal Court today about the conversation.

It occurred in Defence Industry Minister Linda Reynolds’ office after he noticed her looking distressed in the days after he learned she was found naked in the ministerial office.

The chief of staff, Fiona Brown, had informed him of this fact telling him, “you’re not going to believe this” and said she was hoping to view the CCTV to get to the bottom of the incident.

Mr Payne then witnessed Ms Higgins distressed in the office and had a “blunt conversation” with her.

“And I then asked her, ‘may I ask you a very direct question?’ And she said, ‘sure, go for it.’

“And I remember those were the exact words. And I said ‘did he rape you?’

“Her response was ‘I could not have consented it would have been like f**king a log’.”

During an earlier discussion with Ms Brown, she indicated to Mr Payne that she wanted to view the CCTV footage.

“I believe she said words to the effect that ‘I’m going to try and get access to the CCTV footage, and I should be able to get to the bottom of what’s going on here’,’’ Mr Payne said.

“She was frustrated. Because this was one more thing to deal with in a busy office.”

Question time brief

Mr Payne also gave evidence that Mr Lehrmann was not directly responsible for Question Time briefs on submarines.

Mr Lehrmann has previously given evidence that he came back to the office on the night of the alleged rape and worked on the Question Time brief from 1:48am to around 2:30am.

Last three words Higgins remembers

Ms Higgins told police that she recalled feeling “disproportionately” drunk given the amount of alcohol she had drunk on the night she alleged she was raped.

The defamation trial is continuing today with the federal agent Rebecca Cleaves giving evidence on her meeting with Ms Higgins about a week after the alleged rape on April 1, 2019.

Ms Cleaves said that her notes recording Ms Higgins expressed concern about how intoxicated she was and how much she had drunk.

“She remembers feeling disproportionately intoxicated, in comparison to the amount of alcohol she thought she’d had,” Ms Cleaves said.

Ms Higgins had fallen over twice, so she decided it was time to go home.

“At which time she remembers being escorted to the rear of an Uber with her colleague Bruce,” Ms Cleaves said.

“And the next thing she remembers was being dropped off at Parliament House.

“And she remembered that (Bruce) Lehrmann said her words to the effect of ‘just play along’.

“From there, she remembers waking up on the ministerial suite couch and Bruce Lehrmann was on top of her participating in non-consensual sex.”

Ms Cleaves said Ms Higgins remembered saying “no, or don’t”, and the next thing she remembered after that was waking up in the morning, alone.

In evidence in the Federal Court, Ms Cleaves said that Ms Higgins told her she woke up and could “smell sex”.

She did not want to make a formal complaint and did not want the evening to become the “narrative” of her employment at Parliament House.

On April 3, the AFP made a request for the CCTV footage but ran into problems.

“We made a formal request to the Department of Parliamentary Services for access to the CCTV footage,” Ms Cleaves said.

“When you fill it out, it’s to quarantine the footage, so it’s preserved.”

Top secret: Bruce Lehrmann’s ‘security breach’

A former departmental liaison officer Chris Payne who was working in Defence Industry Linda Reynolds’ office has told the Federal Court about a “significant” security breach where Bruce Lehrmann left a document marked “Top secret” lying on a desk in the office.

The earlier incident was later raised a factor when Senator Payne terminated his employment in the weeks after the alleged rape.

When alerted to the unsecured document, Mr Payne secured the document and put it in a safe in the office to ensure it was no longer lying on a desk.

“I obtained that document and I secured it in a safe,’’ Mr Payne said.

Mr Payne then confronted Mr Lehrmann. But Mr Lehrmann, 23, resisted this, suggesting this was not up to the senior public servant and he needed to give it back to him.

“I said, ‘I understand that this document is yours. And it can’t be left where it is as it is right now. Can I help you to secure it?” Mr Payne said.

“Can I help you to take it somewhere or to give it to somebody to the appropriate agency that owns the document.

“And in response, Mr Lehrmann responded to me that it wasn’t my concern, because it wasn’t within my remit to be handling that document.”

Mr Lehrmann then took the document, which Mr Payne had put in a coloured folder. He then left the office with the document in his possession.

He later checked and discovered that Mr Lehrmann had delivered it to the responsible agency by hand. Mr Payne then informed the chief of staff Fiona Brown of the security breach.

“I recall saying to Ms Brown words to the effect that a ‘security incident in the form of an uncontrolled top secret document had occurred within the suite’.”

Mr Lehrmann previously gave evidence that he did not regard the incident as serious.

On November 23 Dr Matt Collins KC, representing Channel 10, asked Mr Lehrmann if he regarded it as a serious incident. He replied: “Well, I still do not consider it a major security breach.”

‘Things got a little hazy’: Federal agent Kate Thelning gives evidence

Federal agent Kate Thelning also gave evidence about her discussions with Ms Higgins in 2019 about the alleged rape.

“Ms Higgins had met with a date, which was a Tinder or Bumble date,’’ she said.

“They didn’t get along. The date had bought her maybe two drinks. A group of about four went into the city.

“Ms Higgins knew the other two quite well and considered Bruce a friend.

“At this stage, things got a little hazy. She felt like it all got hazy.

“They were dancing. While she was dancing, she fell over. Ms Higgins fell over and she felt embarrassed. So she sat down.

“She described that (Bruce) got quite handsy. But she didn’t really mind.

“This stage she felt like she got super inebriated And she said she lost it on the stairs again.”

Ms Higgins also told police she had attended a medical centre for “tests” after the alleged rape.

But she had subsequently given evidence she never attended the appointments.

Brittany Higgins ‘asked for case file’ before The Project interview

Mr Lehrmann’s barrister Steve Whybrow asked Ms Thelning if it was unusual for an alleged rape file to ask for the case file.

“Is it fair to say, that in your experience, it’s unusual for a complainant or a person who is alleging they are a victim of crime, to speak to the police asking to review a case file before they indicate whether they want to go ahead?’’ Mr Whybrow asked.

Federal agent Thelning said that she passed the request up to a chain of command.

Justice Lee then offered to “cut through” and ask her some questions about whether it was unusual.

Federal agent Thelning said she had not had that experience previously.

CCTV roadblocks

Ms Cleaves has told the Federal Court that Parliament House would not provide the CCTV footage in April, 2019 but did allow her to view it.

“Generally speaking, we can get CCTV footage very quickly,” she said.

“This one seemed to take a little bit longer and I was concerned about the time it was taking considering the nature of the allegation.

“It was because at the time there was no active investigation that was progressing and they were hesitant to give us a copy of the footage without an investigative purpose.”

When she viewed the footage, she noted there was no CCTV on Mr Lehrmann leaving the suite from the backdoor of the ministerial suite near his desk.

It did capture him out the front of the Parliament House and waiting for an uber to go home after 2.30am.

Ms Cleaves next heard from Ms Higgins on the 4th of February, 2021, about 11 days before the story broke.

She said Ms Higgins said she was considering making a formal complaint again and wanted to know if she could have access to the brief on the matter as she was “considering her options and progressing to a formal complaint”.

Vomit on dress, no report of injury

During her evidence federal agent Ms Cleaves said that Ms Higgins indicated she had attended a GP the previous Friday.

The Federal Court has previously heard from Ms Higgins that she did not attend this appointment.

Her notes said there was a vomit stain on the dress.

She did not report any injuries, including a bruise.

Ms Higgins has told the Federal Court she later photographed a large bruise on her leg that she provided to The Project two years later.

However, federal police could find no records on her phone that she discussed this bruise with others until 2021 when she was talking to media outlets.

Where’s David Sharaz?

Justice Michael Lee again asked if Ms Higgins’ fiance David Sharaz was being called as a witness in the defamation trial. The court was told Mr Sharaz would not be giving evidence.

Ms Higgins’ mother, father and her father’s partner will also be called to give evidence.

The defamation trial will hear from two of the original AFP police officers stationed at Parliament House who spoke to Ms Higgins in the week after the alleged rape — Rebecca Cleaves and Kate Thelning — as it continues today.

The Federal Court will also hear from a former departmental liaison officer Chris Payne, who asked Ms Higgins in 2019 “were you raped?” and Ms Higgins disclosed that what she alleged had occurred, in her view, could not have been consensual.

It’s the second time Justice Lee has asked Channel 10’s barrister Matt Collins KC if Mr Sharaz was to be called as a witness.

“No one’s calling Mr Sharaz? That remains a position?” Mr Collins said on Monday.

The Federal Court has heard evidence about his involvement in setting up the interview with Ten and his appearance on the audio of a five-hour pre-interview tape recorded by 10 producer Angus Llewellyn.

‘Irregular’ request from the Department of Finance

The Federal Court has also criticised the Commonwealth as “irregular” for suggesting that it should be consulted over the affidavit of Ms Higgins’ former chief of staff Fiona Brown as a “condition” of providing taxpayer-funded legal advice.

Justice Lee criticised the correspondence on Monday suggesting that if the Department wanted to make any submissions on the disclosure of any documents or information there were processes for doing that.

“I’m sure it’s all quite anodyne but it’s a fairly unorthodox way of proceeding,” Justice Lee said.

“I made it clear that obviously there could be consultation about the provision of documents, but to the extent that it involves some further consultation, the preparation of evidence, it does seem to me to be slightly irregular.”

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