The trial that gripped Australia this week made a series of dramatic revelations as former parliamentary staffer Brittany Higgins’ claim that a former colleague, Bruce Lehrmann, raped her in Parliament House was tested in court.
Lehrmann, 26, has pleaded not guilty to one count of non-consensual sexual intercourse after he and Ms Higgins returned from a night out to minister Linda Reynolds’ office at Parliament House in March 2019.
In a week of high drama, Ms Higgins was unavailable to give evidence for four days until Friday. The court also heard from the security guard who found Ms Higgins in the parliamentary office on the night of the alleged assault, an AFP forensic biologist and Ms Higgins’ mother.
Here are five of the most important moments from the week:
Ms Higgins (pictured) returned to the witness stand in the ACT Supreme Court on Friday
Bruce Lehrmann (pictured left) arrives in the ACT Supreme Court on Friday – his evidence on the night of the alleged rape was heard for the first time on Monday
1. Brittany Higgins was unavailable to attend the rape trial for four days
Details of the trial against Lehrmann in the ACT Supreme Court were under suppression until Friday because Mr Higgins was unable to attend for four days.
In her absence, the court heard from 22 witnesses, including the security guard who allegedly found Ms Higgins naked after the alleged rape, Nikola Anderson.
It also heard from department official Christopher Payne, who gave key evidence about a conversation he had with Ms Higgins days after the alleged incident.
Lerhrmann adamantly denied having sex with Ms Higgins – consensual or otherwise – when questioned by police in a recorded interview sent to the court on Monday.
Over the following days, the court heard from a number of witnesses, including Reynolds’ former chief of staff, who burst into tears and fled the witness box when asked about text messages Ms Higgins sent her thanking her for all her ‘support and advice. ‘.
But it was Mrs Higgins’ return that gripped the courtroom.
Ms Higgins (centre) was declared “unavailable” to attend court on Monday and was absent for four days of the trial
Ms Higgins made a sensational return to the trial and told the jury she was ’embarrassed in front of a court of law’ when she was grilled about telling Lisa Wilkinson her accused rapist took off her underwear.
She also faced questions over text messages she exchanged with her boss in the days after the alleged sexual assault.
Under questioning from defense barrister Stephen Whybrow, Higgins admitted she was ‘scared’ for her career after revealing the rape allegation but had pretended everything was ‘fine’.
She pointed at Lehrmann in the courtroom and practically shouted: ‘Nothing was fine after what you did to me. Nothing.’
2. Shocking moment a security guard found Mrs Higgins undressed
Parliament security guard Nikola Anderson told the court she found Mrs Higgins naked and lying on her back on Reynolds’ gray leather sofa at around 10am. 04.15 on 23 March 2019 – the morning she was allegedly raped.
Parliamentary security guard Nikola Anderson had escorted Lehrmann and Ms Higgins to the Defense Department suite at Parliament House in Canberra on the night of the alleged rape.
Ms Anderson (pictured right) told the court she found Ms Higgins naked and lying on her back
Earlier that evening, she had escorted Lehrmann and Mrs. Higgins to the Defense Department suite and stayed with them until she had to relieve her colleague, who was still working at the security desk at the entrance to the Parliament Buildings.
“When I went downstairs to give Mark his break, Mark had told me that something strange happened…Mr. Lehrmann had left…about 20 minutes after I let him into the suite,” said Ms. Anderson in court.
“He seemed in a hurry to get out, kind of threw the passport at my colleague.”
Ms. Anderson was asked to conduct a welfare check on Ms. Higgins some time later because she did not leave the suite with Lehrmann.
She went up to the defense suite, opened the door and saw Mrs. Higgins ‘lying on the back completely naked in the lounge’.
‘I think the air from the door has been noisy or whatever. She has opened her eyes, she has looked at me and then she has proceeded to roll over into the fetal position facing the desk.’
Ms Anderson told the court that the white dress Ms Higgins had been wearing earlier in the night was on the floor.
The court heard Brittany Higgins (pictured) centre, kept the dress under her bed before washing it in what she described as a symbolic act
Bruce Lehrmann (pictured) told his former chief of staff he went to Parliament House to drink whiskey but later told police he went there to work and collect documents
3. Mrs. Higgins’ brutal reaction to being asked if she was raped
The court heard conflicting claims during testimony about what happened during the alleged rape around 10 p.m. 01.40 on 23 March 2019 – not least why there was no consent.
Asked by a defense liaison officer if she had been raped after she became ‘visibly upset’ during a discussion about the alleged incident, Ms Higgins said she could not have agreed.
‘I could not have given consent. It would have been like banging a log,’ Mrs Higgins told Christopher Payne, the court heard.
Payne worked with the former Liberal staffers as a departmental liaison officer in the office of then Defense Industry Minister Linda Reynolds.
He told the court what Mrs Higgins said when they spoke days after the alleged incident.
Brittany Higgins sent texts about the alleged rape to ex-lover Ben Dillaway (pictured)
Forensic expert Jennifer Stone said the tests are “kind of inconclusive” when asked if it was possible there was semen on the dress before it was washed by Mrs Higgins (pictured centre)
“She remembers, I think, being near the windowsill in the office and then basically blacking out and not remembering anything more until she woke up on the couch in the office with Mr. Lehrmann on top of her.
‘She indicated that he had sex with her at the time.’
Mrs Higgins also told the court that she became deliberately ‘mid-raped’ to find Lehrmann penetrating her without consent on the sofa in the minister’s office.
She claimed her legs were unlocked by his knees on the couch.
Her testimony included waking up naked and alone on Senator Reynolds’ couch.
Defense lawyers Katrina Musgrove and Steven Whybrow (both pictured) are representing Lehrmann in the ACT Supreme Court case
They heard two news stories about the rape allegations were revealed on 15 February 2021 – one an online article by News Corp journalist Samantha Maiden, and the other a TV interview with The Project host Lisa Wilkinson (pictured)
Ms Higgins recalled breaking down in tears after waking up, throwing up in the ministerial toilet and finally pulling herself together to leave at around 10pm.
4. The expert’s finding of the white Kookai cocktail dress worn by Mrs. Higgins
A forensic biologist working for the Australian Federal Police examined the cocktail dress Ms Higgins wore on the night of the alleged rape, the court heard.
Jennifer Stone – a senior forensic biologist working for the AFP – told the court she was given Ms Higgins’ white Kookai cocktail dress on February 6, 2021 and asked to look for semen.
‘There I was told a dress had been washed and there had been some delay since the time of the alleged incident – [it had been] washed once and put away, she said.
The court previously heard that Mrs Higgins kept the dress under her bed before washing it in early 2019 – after the alleged assault.
Ms Stone said there were a ‘couple’ of areas that required further testing but they produced negative results for semen.
“Then I just screened the whole dress inside, the skirt of the dress, just to see that, just to be thorough,” she told the court. ‘[The screening] gave a negative result.’
5. The testimony of Mrs. Higgins’ mother about the impact on her daughter
Ms Higgins’ mother Kelly Higgins then took to the witness stand and told the court that working as a media adviser for the Liberal Party was her daughter’s ‘dream’, but said she appeared to be ‘broken’ in March and April 2019.
“Brittany became very distant. Brittany became very quiet… She had lost a lot of weight. She became quite thin. She just looked pretty devastated, she said.
Mrs Higgins told the court that her daughter confided in her during dinner on November 21, 2019 – and explained that she had been drinking before deciding to “share a taxi” with a colleague.
‘She then said she remembers going to Parliament House… She went in, went into one of the suites… sat down in the lounge of Senator Reynolds’ office,’ Ms Higgins told the court.
Her voice quivered as she told the court how her daughter remembered looking out over the parliament courthouse from a windowsill in the defense suite and feeling proud of her achievements – “this was her dream”, her mother added.
‘[Ms Higgins] said she woke up with a pain in her leg and that a gentleman was on the top of her having intercourse with her.
“He looked at her coldly. He didn’t respond to her. She told him ‘no’. Then he finished and left and she said she was just laying there for a while.’
The testimony of Ms Higgins’ former boyfriend, Ben Dillaway, was echoed by her mother.
He told the court it was ‘like a light had gone off in her’ and described her as ‘a broken, broken person’ after the alleged assault.
The trial continues.