Court testimony from a Colombian-born cleaner sent to tidy up Linda Reynolds’ parliamentary office hours after Brittany Higgins alleged she was raped has shed water on the persistent rumor of an alleged “steam cleaning” cover-up.
Carlos Ramos was asked to clean Senator Reynolds’ office on March 23, 2019, after Parliamentary Security Staff officials alerted a Department of Finance official that two employees had entered the office and that Ms. Higgins had slept on the sofa.
Ms Higgins did not make public allegations of an assault until much later and investigations by former intelligence and security inspector general Vivienne Thom and the Federal Police found there was no reason to suspect one at the time.
However, late-night drinks in Parliamentary offices are not uncommon in Canberra, and special cleanups are sometimes ordered to ensure MPs do not reach the remains of a party.
When Mr. Ramos arrived to complete the cleaning, expecting a job of two hours or more, he found the room so tidy that he called his boss, who then contacted security to ensure they had the correct room.
Brittany Higgins (pictured) alleged she was raped in the office of then Defense Minister Linda Reynolds at Parliament House in 2019
A court heard that it was not uncommon for ministers’ offices to be cleaned if employees had been drinking the night before so as not to make a mess (Senator Linda Reynolds pictured)
“In my opinion, this looks like a normal cleaning,” Ramos, whose first language is Spanish, told the ACT Supreme Court that he had told his supervisor.
Ramos testified on October 11 of last year that he spent 30 minutes doing a routine cleaning of the already cleaned room, a fact that columnist Janet Albrechtsen noted in the aussie it had been overlooked by the media.
His testimony was lost in the multitude of documents that finally became available when a suppression order was lifted.
The order had been in place until Ms Higgins completed her cross-examination, which was fragmented over mental health issues.
Asked by prosecutor Shane Drumgold if he had cleaned the sofa where Higgins alleges she was raped, Ramos said he cleaned it with a leather cleaner.
‘Did you put a chemical on a cloth and wipe it (the sofa)?’ asked Drumgold.
Ramos: “Yes, yes.”
On cross-examination, Ramos told defense attorney Katrina Musgrove: “It was totally a routine cleaning.”
Her testimony disproves the claim that the sofa in Ms Reynolds’ office had been thoroughly steam cleaned in the hours after the alleged sexual assault.
The Parliament House cleaner said he cleaned the sofa with a leather cleaner and cloth, but did not steam clean (Pictured Ms Reynolds’ office in Parliament House)
Clean steam claim suggesting the scene might have been ‘jammed’ appeared on articles that broke history and has been repeated countless times.
Ms Albrechtsen noted that the claim appeared to stem from a diary note by Australian Federal Police Deputy Commissioner for Homeland Security Leanne Close about a conversation she had with AFP Deputy Commissioner Lesa Gale.
The note said that Gale told him that “office staff have steam-cleaned the lounge.”
The claim was repeated months later in an anonymous letter to the late Senator Kimberling Kitching.
On his cross-examination, Mr. Ramos was also asked if he needed to clean the bathroom where Ms. Higgins said she had vomited.
‘Not really…like the bathroom hadn’t been used recently.’
He said there didn’t seem to be any used towels, the bathroom wasn’t dirty, and there were no odors.
‘Didn’t the toilet seat underneath need to be cleaned?’ Musgrove asked.
‘Did not answer.
Ms Higgins is seen on CCTV footage walking past Parliament House security the night she alleges she was raped in Ms Reynolds’ parliamentary office.
ACT director of public prosecution Shane Drumgold, who handled the Higgins case, is on leave until August 30.
Anthony Williamson SC is acting in the role.
ACT Premier Andrew Barr is awaiting a report due this month following an independent inquiry into how the justice system handled the criminal trial of Bruce Lehrmann.
Mr. Lehrmann was the staff member accused of raping Ms. Higgins in Ms. Reynolds’ office. He has consistently denied the allegations.
The independent inquiry has been led by former Queensland High Court Justice Walter Sofronoff.
Prosecutors dropped charges against Mr. Lehrmann over concerns about the impact of a second trial on Ms. Higgins’ mental health after the first trial was aborted due to jury misconduct.