The former defense minister at the center of the Brittany rape case Higgins used the cover of parliament to flog top prosecutor Shane Drumgold SC after claiming politicians were ‘probably’ interfering in the case.
Shane Drumgold SC, ACT’s director of public prosecutors who led the case against Bruce Lehrmann, suggested on Wednesday that there could be a political conspiracy behind an alleged police attempt not to charge Lehrmann with assault.
However, in a stunning backflip, Mr Drumgold revisited those allegations during a hearing by the Board of Inquiry into the implications of the trial.
He admitted that his suspicions of political interference were “false”.
In a fiery surprise speech in the Senate on Thursday night, Western Australian Liberal Senator Reynolds said she considered the charge of political interference “a complete affront to my reputation”.
“This baseless suggestion was baseless, but it should never have come to this,” she said.
Senator Reynolds said she “categorically rejects” Mr Drumgold’s comments, adding that she was cooperating fully with the AFP investigation.
“It is baffling and disturbing that this opinion was offered under oath as there was absolutely no basis for this claim – as the DPP again acknowledged under oath in its inquiry today,” she said.
Brittany Higgins, a former staffer in Senator Reynolds’ office, accused Lehrmann of raping her in the House of Representatives in March 2019.
Shane Drumgold SC, ACT’s Director of Public Prosecutions, backtracked on those claims a day later
He pleaded not guilty, and after an aborted trial for juror misconduct, the assault charge was dropped in its entirety due to concerns about Ms. Higgins’ mental health. He has always maintained his innocence.
An inquiry is now underway to look into the behavior of prosecutors, police and the Victims of Crime Commissioner during the trial.
It was launched following a heated email from Mr Drumgold to ACT Chief Police Officer Neil Gaughan on November 1, 2022 – between when the trial was aborted last October and when the case was dropped entirely on December 1.
“I would like to express my serious concerns about what I see as quite obvious interference by investigators in the criminal justice process,” he wrote at the time.
“I believe that at the end of the trial there should be a public inquiry into both political and police conduct in this case.”
Mr. Drumgold also wondered if there was a connection between Senator Reynolds and the police.
On Wednesday, Mr. Drumgold that it was “possible, if not probable” that there was a wider conspiracy by the Australian Federal Police not to press charges against Mr. Lehrmann.
Western Australian Senator Reynolds said she found the accusation “a complete affront to my reputation”
Brittany Higgins, a former staff member in Senator Reynolds’ office, accused Mr Lehrmann of raping her in the House of Parliament in March 2019
On Thursday, he had changed his tone, telling his own lawyer Mark Tedeschi KC that he was “mistaken” and that those suspicions had since been allayed.
Instead, he said the problem was likely a “skill shortage” within the research team, rather than any interference.
His clarification came just hours after Senator Reynolds issued an initial statement denouncing the allegation.
Senator Reynolds said: “In fact, it was I who referred Ms Higgins to the AFP on April 1, 2019, following a meeting I had with her and Ms Brown in my office.
‘Mr Drumgold SC’s suggestion in his testimony today continues a theme raised by the DPP in the trial that my actions were politically motivated. This was rejected by me during the trial and will remain so.’
The prosecution also alleged that police erroneously attributed stereotypes to Ms Higgins, based on what they believe an alleged rape victim would or would not do – Walter Sofronoff, who is leading the investigation, described them as “rape myths.”
“Stereotypical analysis of the way a complainant would behave — a real complainant would never go to the media or would tell everyone immediately — these stereotyped beliefs that there is a standard to how a complainant would behave,” he said.
The investigation continues.