Lisa Wilkinson’s texts about Brittany Higgins revealed in Bruce Lehrmann defamation trial

Bruce Lehrmann’s barrister has accused Brittany Higgins of making a “far-fetched” claim to The Project that the CCTV of the night of her alleged rape was “quietly destroyed”.

Network Ten producer Angus Llewellyn was grilled in court on Wednesday about the claim that the footage was “lost”.

The Federal Court was told that Ms Higgins has wanted to see the footage but had never been able to see it.

But she had discussed the CCTV with a “friend” who worked in policing.

“I have a friend I was talking to …who works in policing. And he sort of politely sort of brought me back to reality, and said that he assumes it was quietly destroyed at some point,’’ she said.

“It was lost.”

Mr Lehrmann’s barrister suggested to the Ten producer that the idea it was “quietly destroyed” seemed unlikely.

“That sounded far-fetched didn’t it?” he said.

“I don’t know. I disagree with the premise that it sounded far fetched,’’ Mr Llewellyn said.

“And neither you nor Miss Wilkinson tested her or probed her on that did you?,’’ Mr Richardson said.

Mr Llewellyn said he did not regard Ms Higgins’ claim that the police were encountering difficulty getting the CCTV from Parliament as implausible.

When the story went to air, The Project said there was some “good news” with the Parliament confirming it had stored the CCTV.

Police have previously given evidence it was “frustrating” obtaining the CCCTV.

Detective Senior Constable Sarah Harman described “frustrating” difficulties in retrieving CCTV footage of Ms Higgins and Lehrmann in Parliament House on the night of the alleged rape.

“I’d never encountered such push-back on obtaining CCTV footage.’’ she said.

‘Nonsense’: PM’s office yelled at The Project

The Project’s producer Angus Llewellyn has told the Federal Court of an “angry” clash with the Prime Minister’s office over Brittany Higgins’ rape allegation in the lead up to the broadcast.

Channel 10 producer Angus Llewellyn was grilled on Tuesday on his discussions with then-Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s media chief Andrew Carswell.

In an affidavit published by the Federal Court, Mr Llewellyn wrote that on Sunday, February 14, 2021, he missed a telephone call from Andrew Carswell, who was at the time the Press Secretary to Mr Morrison.

“I do not now recall what Mr Carswell said exactly, but I recall that he yelled at me,’’ Mr Llewellyn said.

He said Mr Carswell was concerned about how Defence Minister Linda Reynolds’ office was going to be portrayed.

“His entire focus was that the story could potentially paint Ms (Fiona) Brown, who he called ‘a legend’ of the party, in a poor light,” Mr Llewellyn said.

“He did not seem to me to be concerned by the allegation that a rape had allegedly occurred in a Minister’s office. He was furious at the thought that we may name Ms Brown.

“I remember that he asked me whether I was aware of any correspondence between Ms Higgins and Ms Brown. I had no idea why he had called me given my request for comment had been sent to Ms Brown.

“I did not want to hear from a media manager, I wanted to hear from Ms Brown and the others Ms Higgins had mentioned.

“I kept emphasising to Mr Carswell that they had until 10am on Monday to get back to me. I took handwritten notes of this conversation.”

During cross examination, Bruce Lehrmann’s barrister put it to the producer that Mr Carswell had provided a lot of information about the incident that was at odds with Ms Higgins’ claims that she was not supported.

“There’s this heading ‘background’ and I take it that that means Mr Llewellyn that you could use the information but you are not able to attribute it to anyone is that right?,’’ barrister Matthew Richardson SC asked.

“Yes, it’s an underhanded, strange thing that political people do,’’ Mr Llewellyn replied.

“Nonetheless, you agree that it means you can use the information but it’s not attributable?,” Mr Richardson asked.

Subsequently, Mr Richardson asked him why Mr Llewellyn didn’t use more of the “background” information provided by the Prime Minister’s office in the program broadcast.

“Now, I just want to take you through some of the things that Mr Carswell told you. Under the heading of ‘background’ you see, there’s a statement there about three lines and Fiona Brown?,’’ he asked.

“I thought you agreed earlier that you were able to use material and background but you weren’t able to attribute it to a specific person?,’’ Mr Richardson said.

“Oh, no, no, no, no, sorry,’’ Mr Llewllyn responded.

“I mean, I would never use something that someone just tells me on ‘background’, or you would never use it at all.”

“You treat ‘background’ as the same as off the record, do you?,’’ Mr Richardson asked.

“Oh, yeah, yes, absolutely.”

Mr Llewellyn said the terms were “interchangeable”.

“I suggest to you, Mr Llewellyn, that that’s nonsense,’’ Mr Richardson said.

Mr Llewellyn was then grilled on two records that the Prime Minister’s office provided to him.

They included a text message exchange between Ms Higgins and chief of staff Fiona Brown when she moved to a new office and thanked her.

There was also an email, in March, 2019, from the Department of Finance to Ms Brown on how to handle an alleged sexual assault.

The advice was received by Ms Brown on the Friday, before she and Senator Reynolds met with Ms Higgins the following Monday, April 1, in the room she was allegedly raped in.

Mr Llewellyn said he could not recall mentioning the additional information to Ms Wilkinson.

Mr Carswell had confirmed the incident was originally treated like a security breach and said that it was a week later, on April 1, that Ms Higgins had a meeting with Minister Reynolds.

Once it became clear there was an allegation of sexual assault, Mr Carswell said Ms Higgins would have had the support of the Liberal party if she wanted to make a formal complaint.

But this was at odds with Ms Higgins’ account during her interview with Lisa Wilkinson.

“The Project opens with, ‘a young woman forced to choose between her career and the pursuit of justice’,” Mr Richardson SC, said.

“Mr Carswell told you Ms Higgins was told the incident wouldn’t impact her job.”

However, the Channel 10 producer rejected that and said Mr Carswell’s information “confirmed a lot of what Ms Higgins said”.

“Two contemporaneous documents had been provided to you from a government spokesperson,’’ Mr Richardson SC said.

Higgins’ fiance’s ‘stalking’

Brittany Higgins’ boyfriend David Sharaz told a producer that “I’ve done some stalking” and then provided him with contact details for his partners’ alleged rapist Bruce Lehrmann.

Network Ten producer Angus Llewellyn told the court on Wednesday that Brittany Higgins’ now fiancé gave him Bruce Lehrmann’s contact details.

“I’ve done some stalking. Don’t ask me how I got them,’’ Mr Sharaz says in the email.

The Federal Court has separately heard last month that Bruce Lehrmann received a mysterious, threatening email headed “Coming for you” and suggesting he “think about what you did”, the month before Brittany Higgins went public with her allegation.

During re-examination by his barrister Steven Whybrow in the defamation trial, Mr Lehrmann was asked whether, in hindsight, he had formed a view about the source of the email.

“I have a view that that was Ms Higgins’s fiance, Mr David Sharaz,” Mr Lehrmann said.

The email was sent by a “Bruce Lehrmann”, but Mr Lehrmann told police the Outlook address from which it came was not his.

Sent at 11.11pm on January 25, 2021, the email begins: “Bruce, A woman spoke about what happened to her tonight, and she’s Australian of the Year.”

Ms Tame had just been named Australian of the Year for her advocacy on behalf of survivors of sexual assault.

“I want you to think about what you did, and what might be around the corner for you. It’s inspiring when justice is delivered and the truth comes out. You know what they said: The truth will set you free.

“How many people know what you did, and how many did you tell. How many cameras are in Parliament House and how many people tracked down the vision.

“Think about it. Two former staffers from Aussies, now security guards. It’s going to be a magical 2021.”

A second email was also sent with the subject line: “Truth will come out”.

On Thursday, Bruce Lehrmann’s barrister then asked the Ten producer whether he thought that Mr Sharaz was politically motivated.

Angus Llewellyn told the court that he did not believe he was motivated by politics.

The Federal Court has previously heard that Mr Sharaz told Lisa Wilkinson that he had a ‘friend’ on the Labor side, Katy Gallagher, who could “probe the situation and keep it going” in Parliament.

Mr Richardson asked: “You knew Mr Sharaz attempted to assist the then-opposition in pursuing this in Parliament?”

“Maybe?’’ Mr Llewellyn replied.

“Is that a serious answer? I’m asking for your opinion at the time,’’ Justice Lee said.

Mr Llewellyn said he didn’t know he was definitely going to talk to Katy Gallagher.

“I didn’t know that he would carry through,’’ he said.

Asked again, he replied that he did not know.

“He might have contacted them and they might have brushed him off, I don’t know.”

Mr Richardson suggested that Mr Sharaz had a “political agenda”.

“I don’t think he had,’’ he replied.

The producer told the Federal Court that Ms Higgins was “very, very worried that the story was going to be somehow stopped by the government, she was worried that other people would hear about her story.”

“Ms Higgins was worried about the government stopping the story?’’ Justice Lee said.

“What was the possible basis, as an experienced journalist, would you think there was a possibility of the government stopping publication?”

Mr Llewellyn said he didn’t understand injunctions – legal move to stop publication, but that Ms Higgins was concerned.

“If there was a way an injunction could happen because it involved cabinet ministers, members of the Prime Minister’s office, there could be some complaint levelled,’’ he said.

Project accused of ‘doing a number’ of Bruce Lehrmann

Brittany Higgins told Lisa Wilkinson and her producer that she thought she “could win” if she was ever sued by Bruce Lehrmann for defamation over the rape allegation but she wasn’t sure he would be convicted if the test was a criminal trial and beyond reasonable doubt.

As the cross examination of producer Angus Llewellyn continued, he was grilled about a five-hour recording of a pre-interview where they discussed the defamation risks associated with the story.

Bruce Lehrmann’s barrister also accused The Project of “doing a number” on his client and not being serious about his side of the story a proposition a Ten producer dismissed as “ridiculous”.

The pre-interview discussion included Mr Llewellyn, Lisa Wilkinson, Brittany Higgins and David Sharaz.

“Yeah, I mean, when it comes to defamation, his reputation is clearly going to be lowered by being called a rapist,’’ Angus Llewellyn says on the recording.

Brittany Higgins then tells the group that she thought she had a better chance in a civil court.

“If he wants to go after me, like on a civil basis, I think, on the balance of probabilities, I think I could win,’’ she said.

“I think it’s – if the onus of proof is beyond a reasonable doubt, I think that would be different. I don’t think I could win that.”

Mr Lehrmann was ultimately charged over the allegation, but never convicted. The trial was aborted before the jury could reach a unanimous verdict following an allegation of juror misconduct.

In the recording, the Ten producer discussed the defamation risk in the story.

“My feeling is that if we didn’t name him, and still, we may as well have named him right because so many people would be able to identify from the position, and that kind of stuff and you know various ways with,’’ he said.

Matthew Richardson SC then asked the producer about how much time he gave Mr Lehrmann to respond.

“I want to ask you about the part of the exchange where you say, ‘reasonable’ can be pretty iffy, as long as it’s not five minutes before. And if it’s 10 minutes we should be okay.’

In an affidavit, Mr Llewellyn said that like any other alleged victim Ms Higgins “was not going to be keen on me seeking the alleged perpetrators side of the story”.

“Because I knew I had to seek his comment, I used humour to make her feel at ease,’’ he said.

“When you said you use humour to make her feel at ease, are you referring to us saying, ‘and reasonable can be pretty iffy. As long as it’s not five minutes before broadcast, if it’s 10 minutes that should be okay’?’’ Matthew Richardson SC asked.

“I want to suggest that what you were saying to Mr Sharaz and Ms Higgins was don’t worry, we’ll do a number on Bruce Lehrmann.”

During his testimony, Mr Lehrmann’s barrister has interjected, “Are you finished” as he described The Project as “super agile”

“I suggest to you, Mr Llewellyn, that there was no real possibility that in a matter of hours, The Project would have had time to re-cut what had already been laboriously put together since Ms Higgins gave her interview,’’ barrister Matthew Richardson asked, on the timing of questions to Mr Lehrmann.

“No. We’re a daily news show. We do stuff all the time. Very quickly. We do a combination of long form and short form. So we are super agile,’’ the producer replied

“Are you finished?’’ the barrister interjected.

“I answered your question,’’ the producer replied.

Higgins’ account ‘riddled with contradictions’, court told

Brittany Higgins gave an account that was “riddled with contradictions” on whether or not she was forced to choose between going to the police to report an alleged rape and keeping her job, the federal court has heard.

The cross examination of producer Angus Llewellyn continued on Wednesday, with Bruce Lehrmann’s barrister challenging him on Ms Higgins’ account.

“Mr Llewellyn, the opening words of this program were, ‘Tonight, claims of rape, roadblocks to a police investigation, and a young woman forced to choose between her career and the pursuit of justice’,” barrister Matthew Richardson said.

“Do you remember that? And you approved that, didn’t you?”

Mr Llewellyn said he did not approve or write the introduction but did not disagree with it.

The barrister then turned to what Ms Higgins had said in the interview.

“So at that point, she repeated the allegation that she was told, ‘if you chose to go to the police, we won’t stop you’,” Mr Richardson SC asked.

“They didn’t tell me you should go to the police. We will support you. Like let’s do this,” Ms Higgins said.

Mr Richardson said Ms Higgins had given a number of different accounts of what happened.

“So what I want to suggest to you was that in the course of a few minutes, she’s moved from saying in the first-hand, ‘we would support’, you will agree, then to say it was made clear by subsequent actions that wasn’t a feasible thing, to saying ‘we won’t stop you essentially.’

“When you heard all of that, did it occur to you that there was a serious problem with what she was saying?” the barrister asked.

“None whatsoever, Mr Richardson,” the producer replied.

“Her account was riddled with contradictions,” the barrister said.

“No, I don’t believe that,” Mr Llewellyn replied.

“I’m saying that she was unable to articulate any words that were spoken or any event that amounted to pressure on her not to go to the police,” the barrister said.

“Do you agree or disagree?”

The producer said he disagreed.

Extraordinary cover-up’: Lisa’s texts revealed

Lisa Wilkinson texted Mr Llewellyn that she had an “explosive political story” when she first learned of Ms Higgins’ allegation and she believed it involved a political “cover up”.

In his affidavit published by the Federal Court, Mr Llewellyn details texts that he received from Ms Wilkinson.

The producer said he had known Ms Wilkinson for nearly 20 years, after working as a radio producer for her husband Peter FitzSimons in 2006.

On January 19, 2021, he received an iMessage from Ms Wilkinson.

“I have an explosive political story for Sunday Project. Rang Craig and Sarah and we’re going huge with it. March release,” she wrote.

“I have told Craig I only want to work with you on it. He agrees. Call me when you can.”

The producer replied the next day, “Sounds intriguing! … I can jump on it from Friday if needed? Is it for this Sunday? If it’s not then I’m back from leave on Monday and can hit it then.”

That same day, on January 20, 2021, he received another message.

“It is an extraordinary cover-up involving Linda Reynolds, Michaelia Cash and the PMO. Sarah thinks it is so explosive we should do it over three segments from 7pm,” she wrote.

“It’s for March. Enjoy your holiday. The woman at the centre of it all is ready to talk. She is based in Canberra. We can fly her up. Would you be good for a meeting with her on Monday?”

The producer also received an email from Ms Wilkinson with a timeline prepared by Ms Higgins.

“I approach all potential stories with a degree of scepticism until I have conducted sufficient research and fact checking to confirm their accuracy,’’ he said.

“On the basis of the first Ms Wilkinson email and the timeline, I thought the story was worth exploring.

“Given the number of people who allegedly knew about the incident, I was amazed at Ms Higgins’ claim that there had been a lack of investigation. There was clearly a police investigation which had progressed somewhat, but Ms Higgins had decided not to pursue it further.

“I had previously worked in a managerial role multiple times, with over twenty direct reports, so I was aware that an allegation of sexual assault in a workplace would require a human resources investigation and incredible care to be taken for the complainant.

“The documents, which had been provided to Ms Wilkinson, suggested that Ms Higgins had received a few emails and some WhatsApp messages from her workplace, but not much else by way of support.

“I thought that if that part was true, it was the most egregious act. I thought: ‘How hard is it to look after someone who you work with? Where was the duty of care?’”

In the affidavit, Mr Llewellyn said that on January 26, 2021, he “attended a lunch with Ms Wilkinson on her boat.”

“We sat separately from the other guests and had a private conversation,’’ he said.

“I do not now recall what exactly was said and by whom, but the conversation included the following matters, in respect of which Ms Wilkinson and I were in furious agreement:

(a) that the story needed a lot more investigation as it was a hugely disturbing story;

(b) that it would create a lot of attention if it was broadcast because of those involved, namely a Federal Minister and an allegation that an assault had taken place on her office couch;

(c) that we needed to have a face-to-face meeting with Ms Higgins and Mr Sharaz so that we could get more information from Ms Higgins and assess her demeanour.”

Covert recordings of Michaelia Cash, Daniel Try, Brittany Higgins lawyer

Channel 10 producer Angus Llewellyn was grilled on secretly recorded conversations that Brittany Higgins recorded in a ministerial office of her discussion with Michaelia Cash and her chief of staff Daniel Try.

During her criminal trial, Ms Higgins confirmed she had recorded the call with Ms Cash without her knowledge and described it as “the weirdest call of my life”.

Mr Llewellyn said Ms Higgins had sent him the recording and he had listened to it but he did not use it as he was concerned it was illegally recorded.

“Well, I’m not going to use illegally recorded audio,’’ he said.

Secret recordings that Ms Higgins made of her conversations with chief of staff Daniel Try and Senator Cash in early 2021 were played to the Federal Court on Tuesday.

In the discussions, the senator calls Ms Higgins “honey” and states she did not know of the alleged rape until 2021. She later tells her to “go hug your cat.”

“Britt, we didn’t know anything. You should have told us,” Senator Cash says.

Ms Higgins has disputed in her evidence given to the court that Senator Cash didn’t know about the allegation and accused her former boss of lying.

It also emerged on Monday that there was a covert recording of Brittany Higgins lawyer Leon Zwier speaking about the trial with Ms Higgins fiancee David Sharaz.

Mr Lehrmann’s legal team has subpoenaed the audio from Sky News. Mr Zwier says the conversation was on the basis nothing was passed onto Ms Higgins.

It is strictly prohibited for witnesses to discuss their evidence during cross examination with anyone including friends or even their own lawyer.

Mr Zwier told Sky News his comments were made on the common understanding that no one would speak to Ms Higgins about her testimony.

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