Bruce Lehrmann ‘security incident’ outlined in document

A veteran public servant with a ‘Top Secret’ security clearance filed a report to his superiors on a “security incident” with a classified document involving Bruce Lehrmann just two days before the alleged rape.

Former departmental liaison officer Chris Payne, a senior public servant with Defence for nearly two decades, gave evidence in the Federal Court about the report last week.

When the story broke in 2021, then-prime minister Scott Morrison said Mr Lehrmann was sacked for a “security incident”, but did not provide any further details.

But the March 20 report by Major Payne, who worked in the Defence Department for 15 years, outlined his concerns that the matter was serious.

“Mr Lehrmann left a Top Secret-Codeword classified document uncovered and uncontrolled on a desk within the ministerial suite,’’ he wrote.

“Uncleared personnel are present within the suite (though the usual occupant of the desk/intended recipient was off site.”

When he discovered the breach, Major Payne scooped up the document and locked it away in a safe.

“The presence of the document was brought to my attention by another (cleared) staff member and I secured the document within a B-class safe,’’ he said.

“I then proceeded to inform Mr Lehrmann that documents at that classification could not be handled in that manner and offered to provide him with details on appropriate document handling procedures, which was declined.

“Mr Lehrmann then requested I return the document to him in order for him to return it to the originating agency, claiming he had a secure means by which to transport it.

“Mr Lehrmann was then observed leaving the suite with the document in an opaque plastic folder.

“Subsequent inquiries determined that the document was hand delivered by Mr Lehrmann to a representative of the originating agency.

“Mr Lehrmann later documented his actions and my follow up actions in an email.

“Mr Lehemann has verbally confirmed that he holds no other material classified to this level,’’ Major Payne added.

“It may be prudent for Mr Lehrmann to be reminded of classified document handling procedures to reduce the likelihood of a recurrence.”

Major Payne gave evidence that he 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?” Major Payne told the Federal Court.

“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 Major Payne had put in a coloured folder. He left the office with the document in his possession.

Major Payne later checked and discovered that Mr Lehrmann had delivered it to the responsible agency by hand. He 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.

Mr Lehrmann replied: “Well, I still do not consider it a major security breach.”

‘I thought that he was an idiot’

Lauren Gain, a former ministerial staffer who worked at the Defence Department at the time, attended The Dock and a nightclub called 88mph with Ms Higgins and Mr Lehrmann. She has given evidence she thought Mr Lehrman was “an idiot”.

Ms Gain gave evidence that she attended The Dock for regular drinks with public servants who worked for the Vice Chief of the Defence Force and the Chief of the Defence Force.

There, she met Mr Lehrmann for the first time.

“I remember him telling me that he was waiting on a clearance to come through so that he could go and work at (intelligence agency) ASIS,’’ she said.

“And I remember my response being surprise. Because typically if you’re an applicant wishing to work at one of those agencies, it’s very clear that you’re not to tell people that you’re actually applying to work at those agencies. So I remember thinking that must not be true.

“And I remember saying to my friend … that I thought that he was an idiot for saying that. I remember my response was I was quite shocked.”

A federal police agent, Rebecca Cleaves, also told the court that chief of staff Fiona Brown had been told by Mr Lehrmann that he was planning to leave Senator Linda Reynolds’ office because he had been offered a new job with ASIO.

But she said when Ms Brown rang the agency they said they had never heard of him.

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