The top prosecutor who led the criminal trial against Bruce Lehrmann would never have been publicly humiliated by an investigation if he hadn’t sent an angry letter to the police, falsely accusing them of conspiring against Brittany Higgins.
Shane Drumgold, the ACT’s director of public prosecution, was criticized in a 600-page report by former Justice Walter Sofronoff as an incompetent liar who knowingly misled the Supreme Court.
The report, obtained by the aussie, was the result of a Board of Inquiry held in May that examined the conduct of federal police, prosecutors and Crime Victims Commissioner Heidi Yates during the prosecution of Mr. Lehrmann.
The investigation found that Sofronoff noted that police and Yates largely behaved appropriately and played their roles correctly, but the findings against Drumgold were so damning that his career could be over, The Australian reported.
However, it appears that Drumgold was the architect of his own demise.
It was Drumgold himself who called for the public inquiry to begin, in the form of a five-page letter to Police Chief Neil Gaughan on November 1, 2022.
The letter was sent a month before the case against Mr. Lehrmann was dropped.
The Board of Inquiry was launched after ACT DPP Shane Drumgold (pictured) claimed that there was political interference in Mr Lehrmann’s investigation.
On DPP office letterhead, the letter began: “I want to raise serious concerns I have with what I perceive to be fairly clear investigator interference in the criminal justice process.”
He then went on to detail observations of his interactions with police officers. He claimed that they had “clearly taken” a view that Mr. Lehrmann should not be charged, he argued that they had tried to persuade him not to follow him and accused them of weaknesses in the case.
But the investigation has now reportedly found that Drumgold was making “unsubstantiated” claims that a police conspiracy was afoot.
And it was also found that he wrongly accused Lehrmann’s defense lawyer, Steven Whybrow, of essentially badmouthing him in a secret meeting, which did not happen, The Australian reported.
In a statement on Thursday, Drumgold said he had not yet been given a copy of the report and therefore could not comment on its content.
“I have not seen the report nor have I been informed of any content, so I am not in a position to respond,” he said.
Sofronoff found that there was no evidence of anyone lobbying Higgins (left) that could be described as “strong political forces.”
Some of the “weaknesses” Drumgold referred to in the case were contained in a document written by Detective Superintendent Scott Moller, now known as the Moller report, which questioned Higgins’ credibility.
Detective Moller stated in the report that he did not believe there was enough evidence to prosecute Mr. Lehrmann.
Mr. Drumgold took issue with the content of the report and made a request not to disclose it to the defense under legal professional privilege, although it was up to the police to claim such privilege.
Drumgold told the inquiry that she believed disclosing the fact that police believed there were inconsistencies in Higgins’ allegations would be “crushing” for her.
In his report, Sofronoff reportedly said that “it is not an adequate basis for a prosecutor to resist disclosure of documents” and said that Drumgold failed to follow the general rule: “When in doubt, disclose.”
“Mr. Drumgold kept the defense in the dark about the steps he was taking to deny them the documents,” Mr. Sofronoff said. ‘Criminal litigation is not a game of poker in which a prosecutor can hide the cards.’
Sofronoff said that if Lehrmann’s defense team had not persisted and obtained access to the Moller report, any conviction could have been overturned on the grounds that it was a judicial error.
Bruce Lehrmann is pictured, left, outside the ACT Supreme Court with his defense attorney Steven Whybrow, right
Mr Drumgold’s letter to Police Chief Gaughan continued: “A number of disturbing events occurred during the course of the trial.”
He accused Ms Higgins’ former boss and former Defense Minister Linda Reynolds of “requesting” transcripts from Lehrmann’s lawyer, Steven Whybrow, in order to “tailor” his evidence.
Ms Reynolds, who was a witness for the prosecution, previously told the court that she requested transcripts from Mr Whybrow; he didn’t send them, but even if she did, she said she didn’t intend to use the information to change her evidence. .
Ms Reynolds told the court that she requested the transcripts because: “I was curious as to what had been said, but was informed that it was not appropriate.”
In his letter, Drumgold said the conduct of “investigators has been equally troubling” and accused them of “regularly meeting” with Lehrmann’s legal team during breaks, which Whybrow denied when questioned during the investigation.
In his closing paragraphs, Drumgold stated that Australian Federal Police officers “had a strong desire that this matter not proceed to charge” and said that investigators had “clearly aligned themselves with a successful defence”.
He said there was a “very clear campaign to pressure me to agree to the investigator’s wish not to charge, then during the trial itself, and finally to try to influence any decision on a retrial.”
“I am of the opinion that, at the conclusion of the trial, there should be a public inquiry into the political and police conduct in this matter,” he wrote.
“In addition, I seek your support for an investigation at the conclusion of the trial process into the conduct of police investigators in the lead up to the indictment and beyond, during the trial process itself.”
The investigation went ahead in May and Drumgold was questioned about his conduct for about a week. The interrogation was so severe that he gave up entirely and never finished his cross-examination.
Western Australian Senator Reynolds was a prosecution witness at the trial.
But on his penultimate day in the investigation, he admitted that he no longer believed there was a police conspiracy afoot, saying he was “possibly wrong,” even though he called for an investigation based on that very belief.
The disclosure was prompted by his own lawyer, Mark Tedeschi, who asked: ‘So, would you admit that your suspicions about political interference in the ongoing case were wrong?’
Mr. Drumgold replied: “I accept it.”
Mr. Tedeschi continued: ‘The suspicions that you had in November of last year at the conclusion of the trial, when it was aborted, were those suspicions allayed?
Mr. Drumgold replied, “Yes, they have been.”
In his scathing report, Sofronoff said he was “deeply disturbed” by Drumgold’s behaviour, comparing him to Pontius Pilate, a Roman governor who caved in to demands to crucify Jesus, The Australian reported.
He also said that the DPP made false representations to the ACT Chief Justice that were “false” and “a self-invention”, adding that it was guilty of a “serious dereliction of duty” in failing to disclose documents.
Drumgold stepped aside from his role as DPP after the investigation. He did not resign, but the revelations about Sofronoff’s report have political commentators wondering if he could realistically continue in office.
Speaking to News Corp on Thursday, Drumgold did not indicate whether he intends to formally resign.
The report was not released by ACT Chief Minister Andrew Barr, but leaked on Wednesday night.
In a statement to Daily Mail Australia, an ACT government spokesperson said he was “disappointed” that the report was published prematurely.
“The release of information about the Investigation outside of government proceedings has affected the Investigation process and harmed the individuals involved,” the statement said.
“It further contributes to the ongoing public discussion on the matter which has been very difficult for all those affected.”
He confirmed that the report was not leaked by the government and did not authorize release to any media.
The government is likely to release the report early next week.
Ms Higgins alleged that her former colleague Mr Lehrmann raped her inside Parliament in 2019, which he strongly denies, and he stood trial in the ACT High Court in October last year.
The first trial was miscarried because a juror brought prohibited investigative material to court, and the second never took place because Drumgold dropped the charge entirely, citing concerns about Higgins’ mental health.