The jury in the high-profile rape trial of Brittany Higgins’ accused attacker Bruce Lehrmann has written the judge a note saying they are ‘unable’ to reach a unanimous verdict.
The group of eight women and four men have deliberated for five days in the ACT Supreme Court to try and determine whether Lehrmann was guilty of one count of sexual intercourse without consent.
Ms Higgins alleges the ex-Liberal staffer sexually assaulted her in the parliamentary office of then-defence industry minister Linda Reynolds’ office on March 23, 2019, after a drunken night out in Canberra.
Lehrmann had always maintained his innocence and pleaded not guilty.
At 3pm on Tuesday, jurors sent Chief Justice Lucy McCallum a note which said they were ‘unable to agree’ on a unanimous verdict.
Justice McCallum asked the jury to retire again to see if they can consider a verdict.
‘I have the power to discharge you but I should only do so if satisfied after examining one or more of you that you are not likely to agree,’ Justice McCallum said.
‘Experience has shown juries often are able to agree in the end if they are given more time to consider the evidence’.
Ms Higgins (pictured) said the phone conversation she recorded with with then-employment minister Michaelia Cash was the ‘weirdest’ call she had ever had.
Former Liberal Party staffer Bruce Lehrmann arrives at the ACT Supreme Court in Canberra on Friday
She reminded the jurors of the oath or affirmation they took before the trial began to only hand a verdict down if they genuinely believe it was the right decision.
‘You each take in your personal experience and wisdom and you are expected to judge the evidence fairly in that light.
‘You are all equals in the jury room. Calmly weigh up each opinion in the jury room and discuss them.’
However, the chief justice conceded that it is possible they won’t be able to agree.
‘That, of course, is not to suggest that you can consistently join in a verdict if you do not honestly and genuinely believe it is the correct one,’ she said.
‘I remind you of the direction I gave you in my summary – that all 12 of you in the end must agree upon that verdict.’
Ms Higgins made headlines on February 15, 2021 – almost two years after the night she claims she was raped – when she featured in a News Corp story and a TV interview with Lisa Wilkinson on The Project.
Lehrmann was dragged into the spotlight soon after. On April 19, 2021, he told police in an interview, which was played in court, that he’d had suicidal thoughts.
During that interview, he agreed that he was at popular Canberra nightspot The Dock with Ms Higgins and other colleagues on the night of March 22, 2019. Before the bar closed, Ms Higgins, Lehrmann and two others went to the nightclub 88mph.
Lehrmann maintained he was only ‘moderately’ intoxicated and had good recall of the night – including when he and Ms Higgins went back to Parliament House after 1.30am.
In her interview with federal police on February 24, 2021 – aired to the court in the first week of the trial – Ms Higgins claimed she believed her and Lehrmann were splitting a taxi home, and was surprised when they made a stop at the office.
However, Lehrmann claimed he told Ms Higgins he had to collect his keys from his office on the way home, and that she told him she also needed to collect something.
Once they both were let through security, Lehrmann told police he turned right and she turned left – and claimed he didn’t see her again.
Earlier in the day, Brittany Higgins was flanked by her legal team and supporters as she arrived at court for the first day in the trial of her accused rapist
THREE KEY MOMENTS IN THE PROSECUTION’S CASE
WHY HE WENT TO PARLIAMENT
Lehrmann told his boss, Fiona Brown, on March 25, 2019, that he went to Parliament House to drink whiskey on the night of the alleged assault.
However, the jury heard he later told federal police he went there to do some work and collect documents.
Once inside Parliament House, he said he got to his desk, made notes relating to Question Time and gathered things to work on over the weekend, before he booked an Uber and left the office alone.
‘I didn’t have any alcohol in the office,’ he told police. ‘I didn’t consume anything.’
A witness later told the court Question Time briefs weren’t used outside sitting weeks. The week of March 23, 2019, was not a sitting week.
‘TRIED TO KISS HER’
Ms Higgins told police in the interview she had already had to fend off Lehrmann when he made an attempt to kiss her in her first week in the job at a team dinner.
‘Bruce made a pass at me and tried to kiss me,’ she said. ‘I didn’t think about it all that much because I rebuffed it.
‘I didn’t think it would be a bit deal at the time. It was fine – he took it and left … We never talked about it again.’
Before she got the job with Linda Reynolds, the court heard Lehrmann asked colleague Nicole Hamar to invite Ms Higgins to drinks.
Ms Higgins thought it was part of her job interview, however, Ms Hamar said only the chief-of staff would do an interview. She recalled Lehrmann saying Ms Higgins was ‘good looking’.
In her summary on Wednesday, the judge said the accused was using Ms Hamar’s influence to get Ms Higgins to the bar to have a drink.
‘SWEATY AND GRUNTING’
Ms Higgins went into detail about the moment she was allegedly raped.
She alleged Lehrmann ‘seemed sweaty’, was ‘grunting’ and she was ‘jammed in the corner’ of the couch.
‘I told him no, I told him to stop,’ she told police in the interview, the court heard. ‘It felt like it had been going on for awhile …. I was an afterthought.’
‘It felt quite rough… It was quite forceful. Everything about it was forceful. [I felt] trapped, not human. It didn’t feel like it was about me at all.’
Ms Higgins said she wasn’t screaming, but she did start crying and saying ‘no’ from the moment she woke up.
Lehrmann told police he collected his keys, put some tabs on Question Time briefs, called an Uber and went home.
Ms Higgins told police her memory was ‘hazy’ and later gave evidence in court that she was ‘Schoolies drunk’.
However, the trial heard she remembered being alone for a period of time in the parliamentary defence suite before she fell asleep on a couch in the minister’s office.
The court heard that she woke up to a sharp pain in her leg because Lehrmann’s knee was digging into her thigh while he allegedly had sex with her.
Ms Higgins described Lehrmann to police as ‘sweaty’, ‘grunting’ and described herself as being ‘jammed in the corner’ of the couch.
‘I told him no, I told him to stop,’ she told police in the interview.
‘It felt like it had been going on for a while… I was an afterthought.
‘It felt quite rough… It was quite forceful. Everything about it was forceful. [I felt] trapped, not human.’
Ms Higgins told the court she wasn’t screaming but did start crying and saying ‘no’ from the moment she woke up.
Former Liberal Party staffer Bruce Lehrmann leaves the ACT Supreme Court on Wednesday after his former colleague and alleged rape victim Brittany Higgins gave evidence
After the alleged attack concluded, Ms Higgins said: ‘I remember he got up and looked at me and it was a strange moment of eye contact.
‘At that point, I didn’t say anything to him anymore.’
Throughout the trial, Ms Higgins maintained she did not make a formal police statement until February 24, 2021, because she feared losing her ‘dream job’ as an assistant media advisor for the Liberal Party.
A key component of defence lawyer Steven Whybrow’s case was that Ms Higgins and Lehrmann never had sex – consensually or otherwise.
Mr Whybrow put to Ms Higgins that she falsely told her bosses and police that she was planning to visit a doctor, or that she had already done so, because ‘she didn’t have sex with anyone.’
He also put to her that she ‘fabricated’ the rape allegations because she was concerned about losing her job after the early morning entry to Parliament House sparked security concerns.
‘I’m not a monster,’ she replied.
Mr Whybrow also argued that Ms Higgins didn’t immediately divulge her claims to close friends, and continued to send ‘cordial’ work emails to her accused rapist in the week after the alleged assault, because nothing untoward had happened.
Ms Higgins repeatedly rejected Mr Whybrow’s arguments under cross-examination, and said she made several medical appointments that she never attended because she was too upset.
He put to Ms Higgins that – when she left her former chief-of-staff Fiona Brown’s office after revealing her rape claim – she was more concerned about her career being in jeopardy.
Brittany Higgins alleged she was sexually assaulted by Bruce Lehrmann on March 23, 2019
THREE KEY MOMENTS IN LEHRMANN’S CASE
Ms Higgins admitted to a jury that she was ‘clearly wrong’ when she said she kept the dress she was allegedly raped in, on March 23 2019, stashed under her bed for six months – ‘untouched and uncleaned’.
She was confronted with a photo showing her wearing the white cocktail number to a birthday party, some two months after the alleged incident.
But during cross-examination from Lehrmann’s barrister Steven Whybrow, Ms Higgins was shown a photograph of her wearing the same dress in May 2019 at Ms Reynolds’s birthday party in Perth.
‘BEYOND SCHOOLIES DRUNK’
In her record of interview, recorded in February 2021 and played in court, Ms Higgins told police she took shots after already drinking for some time, and couldn’t remember much of the night in question.
‘I drink socially but I don’t usually get obliterated, but I was at 100. I hit 100.
‘As drunk as I’ve ever been in my life … Beyond schoolies drunk.’
CCTV showed she consumed 11 drinks within four and a half hours.
$325,000 BOOK DEAL
Brittany Higgins was grilled over a $325,000 book deal arranged for her by Lisa Wilkinson’s husband, Peter FitzSimons, on March 16, 2021.
The book would outline her experiences.
Mr Whybrow cited a text Ms Higgins sent to Ms Wilkinson and FitzSimons that said: ‘I am blown away.
‘Yes I can absolutely do this … I’ve had the chapters outlined for the last month or so.’
Ms Higgins agreed with Mr Whybrow that she started outlining the chapters for the book before she made a formal statement to police.
Ms Higgins replied: ‘It was absolutely a concern but it was a moment of… I’d let it out. For the first time I’d let it out. I was holding it in, pretending it was fine.
Pointing at Lehrmann in the courtroom, she told him: ‘Nothing was fine after what you did to me. Nothing.’
The court also heard Lehrmann told his former chief-of-staff Fiona Brown on March 25, 2019, that he went to Parliament House to drink whiskey on the night of the alleged assault three days earlier.
However, he told police he was there to pick up his keys and put some tabs on Question Time briefs.
Lehrmann said he was ‘quite close’ with Ms Higgins on the night of the alleged rape, but not in a romantic way, and that he was living with his then-girlfriend.
He also told police he did not know he was accused of rape until February 2021 when a journalist emailed his new boss.
Throughout his recorded interview, Lehrmann maintained he was only ‘moderately’ intoxicated on the night in question and believed Ms Higgins was similarly drunk.
When asked by police if he had sexual intercourse with Ms Higgins without her consent, Lehrmann said: ‘No.’
He told police that, prior to the allegations, his assessment of the night in question had been that it was a ‘very good, joyous, happy’ evening.
‘My world has been rocked,’ he said in the police interview.
Earlier, a security guard who was working when Ms Higgins and Lehrmann entered Parliament House told the court the accused left in a ‘hurry’ 20 minutes after she let them in.
About two hours later, the security guard said she found Ms Higgins asleep ‘completely naked’ on a grey couch in the former defence minister’s office.
A forensic biologist who worked for the Australian Federal Police told the court she thoroughly examined the white Kookai cocktail dress Ms Higgins wore on the night of the alleged rape – finding no trace of semen.
Ms Higgins’ mother described her daughter as ‘broken’, her ex-lover recalled the moment she cried in his arms while recalling the alleged assault, and a federal agent recalled Ms Higgins said Lehrmann ‘got quite handsy’ while they were at the bar.