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Live updates: Brittany Higgins takes stand for second day in Bruce Lehrmann’s defamation trial

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Tim ClarkeThe West Australian
Bruce Lehrmann speaks about the Brittany Higgins rape allegations on Channel Seven's Spotlight
Camera IconBruce Lehrmann speaks about the Brittany Higgins rape allegations on Channel Seven's Spotlight Credit: 7NEWS/ 7NEWS

WARNING: GRAPHIC CONTENT

Brittany Higgins took the stand in the Federal Court in Sydney for the second day on Wedneday, as the man she accused of raping her, Bruce Lehrmann, sued Lisa Wilkinson and Network 10 for defamation.

Mr Lehrmann is suing over allegations made by Ms Higgins during a The Project interview that aired on February 15, 2021.

He has consistently denied Ms Higgins’ allegation that he sexually assaulted her in Senator Linda Reynolds’ office in Parliament House in the early hours of March 23, 2019.

Ten’s barrister Matt Collins has foreshadowed that Ms Higgins would give “graphic and distressing” evidence about the alleged sexual assault.

Follow the court hearing as it happened via the recap below.

Wrapping up

Thanks for joining us today for our coverage of Bruce Lehrmann’s defamation trial.

Please join us again tomorrow at 7.15am WA time for all the latest as Brittany Higgins takes the stand for a third day.

In the meantime, stay tuned for all the latest wash-up from today’s hearing.

“I wasn’t so scared any more - I was over it.”

Ms Higgins is now being asked about going public to The Project, and going back to the police in 2021.

She is telling the court the trigger for doing this was the Four Corners episode regarding allegations about Christian Porter.

“I wasn’t so scared any more - I was over it. I was angry how they treated women, and I was done,” Ms Higgins said.

“I decided I would speak about it, and go to the police..

“That was the trigger point, I couldn’t be silent about it anymore. When it became clear it was a pattern - I felt sick.

“I was complicit in their cover-ups and the silence because I hadn’t called it out.”

Ms Higgins also claims that at least one media inquiry had been made about an assault in Linda Reynolds’ office in 2019 and that “it almost came up in Senate Estimates.”

She also said there was knowledge about the alleged attack by outsiders - including one staffer who joined her in Michaelia Cash’s staff.

“She knew and was very supportive at the time,” Ms Higgins said.

Court has now adjourned for the day - and will resume at 7.15am Perth time.

‘I was really suicidal at the time’

Ms Higgins is now recounting her time in Western Australia during the 2019 election campaign - where she said she became suicidal.

She said she felt alone, unsupported and ostracised - both by Mr Lehrmann’s former colleagues, and Minister Reynolds.

“She actively avoided me - she would never talk to me. She wouldnt go to events with me,” Ms Higgins said.

“She just wouldnt talk to me.”

During the campiagn, a news story broke about the office of Ken Wyatt - and allegations of bullying within his office.

Ms Higgins said she felt the sympathies of her colleagues lay with the accused bully - and heard comments chastising the person who blew the whistle.

“I felt pretty abandoned, and saw myself in that story. I was really upset by it,” she said.

After the Liberal party were returned in the election, Ms Higgins said she immediately applied to move from Senator Reynolds’ office.

She applied for - and recieved offers - for three jobs. And was offered a job with another WA member, Michaelia Cash.

“I felt like I needed proof”

Ms Higgins has turned to a photograph she took of her leg, in the days after the alleged rape.

The picture was shown on The Project, when it aired two years later.

It showed a large bruise on her leg. She said today it happened either during the assault or when she fell up the stairs in the nightclub.

“I took the photo to validate or corroborate my experience,” Ms Higgins said.

But Ms Higgins said she took it on the day after the Federal Budget in 2019, because she felt “things started go wrong in the office”.

She told the court that in a conversation with Fiona Brown, she was asked where she “wanted to be” during the election.

Ms Higgins said she was given a choice - either go to Western Australia on the election campaign, or go back home to the Gold Coast.

“The conversations with Fiona started getting more tense - it started getting more about the election.

“It was a pivotal conversation. Go home - and that would be the end.”

So she said she took the photograph for proof of what had happened to her.

Ms Higgins then said she approached her former partner, who offered to approach the office of Prime Minister Scott Morrison directly.

A response said that office was “mortified .. how things have been handled”.

And in the meantime, Ms Higgins was still at work in parliament - and had a panic attack on one occasion.

Then, in another meeting with police “I told them about the rape at Parliament House”.

“The officer said to me she was having difficulty getting the CCTV from Parliament House - that concerned me,” Ms Higgins said.

“I was really scared about all the things happening at work. I didn’t trust anyone - I wasn’t doing well.”

And Ms Higgins said she delayed her decision to make a formal complaint to the police, while also deciding what to do for the election campaign.

Ultimately, she said she felt she had no choice - so elected to go to WA, and not make a formal complaint.

“I was a mess.”

Ms Higgins described how she was called into the meeting with her boss Senator Linda Reynolds - in the same office, and near the same couch, where she she was allegedly raped.

“We were literally talking about it, so I dont know how they put those two things together,” Ms Higgins said.

Ms Higgins said she was “dissociating” being back in the same space - and remembered a few key sentences.

“I was not asked to recount the event,” Ms Higgins said.

“The minister said: ‘I’m sorry - these are things women go through. If you go to the police, please keep us informed.

“She said: ‘I didn’t think he was capable of this’.”

Ms Higgins said she barely spoke, because she was so traumatised being back in the room.

“I was crying,” Ms Higgins said. “I was still wading through the trauma.”

And Ms Higgins then went down to the office of the Parliamentary policing unit, and met with two officers.

“I said that I had been out drinking with colleagues ... I had been raped by a colleague. I think I said assaulted.”

And the case was then referred to an outside police authority, who specialised in sexual assault allegations.

‘Vocalising things in such a way is quite confronting’

The court has returned after lunch, with Ms Higgins continuing to describe the aftermath of the alleged rape of her by Bruce Lehrmann.

Ms Higgins said “things got weird” later in that same week. The tone of conversations with bosses changed, visits were happening with the PM’s chief of staff, and Ms Higgins said she was left distraught after new information was relayed to her.

She was told by colleague Chris Payne that security in Parliament House had found her “naked” in the middle of the night.

Ms Higgins said she was shocked she had been left alone, without help.

And then the following Monday, Ms Higgins was called into a meeting with Senator Reynolds.

The disclosure

It was after that Ms Higgins says she began disclosing more about what she said happened in Senator Reynolds’ ministerial suite.

She spoke to a friend and former partner via text message, telling him she was “barely lucid” on the night of the alleged assault.

“I told him that Friday didn’t play out the way that I’d made it seem (and) that Bruce and I ended up back in the room and that I was really intoxicated,” she said.

“And I think I said something to the effect of I couldn’t consent or I was too drunk to consent or something like that.”

In another message, Ms Higgins wrote: “I just think if he thought it was okay, why would he just leave me there like that.”

And in expanding on that, Ms Higgins broke down - saying she was trying to give Mr Lehrmann the benefit of the doubt.

“Even, in his mind, if I give him the benefit of the doubt, how can he leave me like that?” Ms Higgins said.

“I was terrified of becoming the story (and) of being a staffer who this had happened to.”

And she said she was also unable, initially, to tell he father what had happened. Tearfully, Ms Higgins was granted an early lunch by Justice Michael Lee.

The aftermath

Ms Higgins was asked by Dr Matt Collins about the aftermath of the alleged assault.

She remembered how she almost instantly vomited after waking up in the minister’s office - before feeling she needed to eat something.

What she found was a box of Roses chocolates, and at them all. She the found a piece of clothing from a pile of goodwill clothing, called an Uber went home - and stayed in bed all weekend.

On Monday, she said went to work but was “disassociating” from the experience. And that also meant interactions with Mr Lehrmann.

She said he bought her a coffee. She also an email with a “smiley face” sent by him, which gave her the “heebies”.

“It really freaked me out.”

On the Tuesday she emailed Mr Lehrmann after being given a task by Senator Reynolds, starting with the phrase: “I’m phoning a friend.”

Asked why she used the word ’friend’, she told the court she was trying to “diffuse the situation” and make it “as normal as possible”.

“I was still in denial about everything and I needed help with a work thing,” Ms Higgins said.

An unexpected visit from Chief of Staff Fiona Brown was noteworthy - who then said she wanted a meeting with both Mr Lehrmann and Ms Higgins, separately.

After Mr Lehrmann emerged from the office, Ms Higgins said he pack up his boxes and leave the office immediately.

She was called into her meeting and said it was there she first disclosed the sexual assault allegation.

Ms Higgins said she disclosed that she was “drunk” and Mr Lehrmann was “on top of me”.

She said that Ms Brown said to her “Oh God”, and that she was “shocked and upset”.

Ms Brown gave her a number for the Employee Assistance Program, however was later told that she couldn’t get an appointment with a psychologist for several months.

She took the rest of the day off.

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