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Brittany Higgins’ text to ex-boyfriend after alleged rape

Steve ZemekNCA NewsWire
Bruce Lehrmann, left, and Brittany Higgins’ ex-boyfriend Ben Dillaway.
Camera IconBruce Lehrmann, left, and Brittany Higgins’ ex-boyfriend Ben Dillaway. Credit: NCA NewsWire

Brittany Higgins didn’t want to be known as the “girl who was raped in Parliament House”, her ex-boyfriend has told a court.

Bruce Lehrmann has launched proceedings in the Federal Court against Network 10 and journalist Lisa Wilkinson over Ms Higgins’ The Project interview in February 2021 in which she alleged she was sexually assaulted by her former colleague.

Mr Lehrmann has consistently denied the allegations and has told the court he had no sexual contact with Ms Higgins in Senator Linda Reynolds’ office in the early hours of March 23, 2019.

His criminal trial in the ACT Supreme Court last year was aborted due to juror misconduct and a re-trial was abandoned. No findings have been made against him.

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LEHRMANN WILKINSON
Camera IconBruce Lehrmann arrives at the Federal Court on Thursday. NCA NewsWire / Nikki Short Credit: News Corp Australia

‘BROUGHT THE PARTY’

On the morning following the alleged rape, Ms Higgins had a phone call with her ex-boyfriend Ben Dillaway.

Mr Dillaway on Thursday told the court that Ms Higgins told him that she had “kicked on” after drinking in Canberra bars and went back to Parliament House.

Mr Dillaway said Ms Higgins told her “we brought the party back to Parliament House”.

He said he found it “strange”, having worked in Parliament House as an adviser for several years.

He said that Ms Higgins appeared to be being “cagey” and there was something she didn’t want to tell him.

Mr Dillaway told the court on Thursday that Ms Higgins abruptly ended the phone call.

LEHRMANN WILKINSON
Camera IconBrittany Higgins’ ex-boyfriend Ben Dillaway. NCA NewsWire/Nikki Short. Credit: News Corp Australia

‘WERE YOU RAPED’

The court has heard that Mr Dillaway exchanged text messages with Ms Higgins on March 26 during which she said: “So I think I may not continue to be employed with Linda.”

Ms Higgins added in another text message: “It was just Bruce and I, from what I recall. I was barely lucid, I don’t really feel like it was consensual at all.”

Asked what he thought following that text exchange, Mr Dillaway said: “I thought she was saying something sexual had happened.”

During a subsequent phone call, Mr Dillaway said he asked his former girlfriend if she was raped.

“I asked her some more questions about it,” Mr Dillaway told the court on Thursday.

“I recall asking her along the lines of ‘were you raped’.

“During the call she’s become quite upset and the conversation ended.”

Around that time, Ms Higgins indicated to him that she did not want the matter reported to police.

He said she “didn’t want anyone to know about it” and wanted to “put her head down and get on with her life”.

“What was she worried about?” Justice Michael Lee asked.

“Becoming known as the girl who was raped in parliament,” Mr Dillaway said.

“She said that to you?” Justice Lee asked.

“I believe so, yes,” Mr Dillaway added.

LEHRMANN WILKINSON
Camera IconLisa Wilkinson arrives at the Federal Court on Thursday. NCA NewsWire / Nikki Short Credit: News Corp Australia

NAKED

The court has heard that at 4am on March 23, 2019, security guard Nikola Anderson went into Senator Reynolds’ office to conduct a welfare check on Ms Higgins, who was seen entering the suite hours earlier.

Ms Anderson told the court that she announced herself as she entered the office and as she went into the ministerial suite.

She said she found Ms Higgins on her back on a couch completely naked.

“Her dress and shoes on the floor next to her,” Mr Lehrmann’s barrister Steve Whybrow asked on Thursday.

“Yes,” Ms Anderson told the court.

The court heard that Ms Anderson saw a dress and shoes on the floor next to the couch.

Asked if Ms Higgins responded when she announced herself, Ms Anderson told the court: “No, she rolled over into the foetal position and faced the desk”.

Ms Anderson told the court she did not observe Ms Higgins to be in any distress and left.

Ms Higgins previously admitted to the court that she had in the past made incorrect claims about the state of her dress when she woke up the morning of the alleged sexual assault.

The court heard that in a transcript of her draft book she wrote that after the alleged sexual assault, she woke up with her dress scrunched up, hanging loosely around her waist.

The court heard that in January 2021 she also told news.com.au journalist Samantha Maiden that her dress was around her waist and made similar claims to police.

However, Ms Higgins, in her evidence, admitted that she was incorrect about where her dress was located when she woke up.

“I thought it was on my waist, I was incorrect, I didn’t know where the dress was,” Ms Higgins previously told the court.

“I thought it was on my waist because I don’t remember putting it on the next day. So I deduced it was still on.”

Meanwhile, another security guard who was on duty on the night of the alleged incident said he would have stopped Bruce Lehrmann and Brittany Higgins from entering Parliament House if they were too drunk.

Mark Fairweather told the court that he saw Ms Higgins “stumble” as she entered through the metal detectors.

He said the pair would have been refused entry if they were heavily intoxicated.

LEHRMANN WILKINSON
Camera IconParliament security guard Nikola Anderson leaves the Federal Court on Thursday. NCA NewsWire / Nikki Short Credit: News Corp Australia

‘HE WAS ON TOP OF ME’

Senator Reynolds’ former aide de camp and Army major Nikita Irvine told the court she was present at The Dock Bar, with Ms Higgins and Mr Lehrmann, on the night of the alleged assault.

Ms Irvine told the court when she started working in Senator Reynolds’ office, she had “bad vibes” about Mr Lehrmann and formed the opinion he was “not the kind of person I would socialise with”.

Asked why she had “bad vibes” about Mr Lehrmann, Ms Irvine said it was “women’s intuition”.

The court heard that Ms Irvine declined an invitation to have more drinks that night with Mr Lehrmann, Ms Higgins and fellow political staffers Austin Wenke and Lauren Gain at another bar, 88MPH.

The court heard the following day, Ms Gain sent Ms Irvine a message telling her that Mr Lehrmann and Ms Higgins had “hooked up” at the bar.

“I have a recollection of Lauren telling me that Brittany hooked up with Bruce,” Ms Irvine said.

Ms Gain on Wednesday told the court that she saw Mr Lehrmann and Ms Higgins kissing and putting their hands on each other’s thighs at 88MPH.

Mr Lehrmann, in his evidence, denied “pashing” Ms Higgins at the bar.

The following week, Ms Irvine noted Ms Higgins looked “very sad” and invited her to go for a walk.

“I asked her if she was okay … she said ‘no’,” Ms Irvine told the court on Thursday.

“She said ‘Have you heard what happened?’ I said ‘no’.”

By that time, Mr Lehrmann had been dismissed from Senator Reynolds’ office for entering Parliament House after hours in what was a breach of the ministerial code of conduct.

“She said on the weekend Bruce, Austin, Lauren and I went to 88. Bruce and I were in an Uber to go home and he wanted to come back to Parliament House, he had some whiskey to show me or something,” Ms Irvine said.

“When we came back to Parliament House, I fell asleep on the couch and I woke up and he was on top of me’.”

“I said ‘Was it’ and I paused. And she said ‘Yep, definitely’. I took that to mean it was an assault.”

CCTV of Brittany Higgins and Bruce Lehrmann entering parliament. 7 News Spotlight
Camera IconCCTV of Brittany Higgins and Bruce Lehrmann entering parliament. 7 News Spotlight Credit: Channel 7

“LYING UNDER OATH”

Ms Irvine denied that she had subconsciously embellished her evidence to support Ms Higgins’ rape allegations.

She on Thursday told the court that she believed Ms Higgins’ claims.

Ms Irvine on Thursday told the court she was informed by a colleague of an “incident” involving Mr Lehrmann.

Under cross-examination from Mr Lehrmann’s barrister Steve Whybrow, she said she was unsure how she knew it related to Ms Higgins.

Mr Whybrow asked whether it was another example of “women’s intuition”.

“I knew it involved Bruce and I knew it was a serious incident … maybe because she was very upset that day and very down, maybe I put two and two together,” Ms Irvine said.

Mr Whybrow further asked whether she was “saying things because you believe she was a victim of a rape and you’re prepared to say evidence in support of that?”

“Are you accusing me of lying under oath?” Ms Irvine said.

Mr Whybrow asked whether Ms Irvine had made “subconscious additions” to her evidence.

“I don’t believe there’s any subconscious additions to my evidence, I’ve gone through things very thoroughly,” Ms Irvine said.

“And I have tried to separate things that I have learned since and things I knew that day.”

Brittany Higgins and Bruce Lehrmann at The Dock bar on the night of the alleged incident. 7 Spotlight
Camera IconBrittany Higgins and Bruce Lehrmann at The Dock bar on the night of the alleged incident. 7 Spotlight Credit: Supplied

THE CHIEF OF STAFF

Senator Linda Reynolds’ former chief of staff Fiona Brown may be excused from giving evidence during the trial, the court has heard.

The legal teams of both Mr Lehrmann and Network 10 subpoenaed Ms Brown as part of their cases.

The court has previously heard that two days after the alleged rape, Mr Lehrmann was called into a meeting by Ms Brown where he was dismissed for entering Parliament House after hours.

She was also present in meetings with Ms Higgins in the following days.

The court heard that Ms Brown was seeking to be excused.

A lawyer representing Ms Brown on Thursday appeared before the court and said she was seeking to call medical evidence.

Justice Michael Lee flagged the possibility of the YouTube livestream being delayed while Ms Brown gives her evidence.

Justice Lee will hand down a decision on whether Ms Brown gives evidence at a later date.

A ‘PASSIONATE’ KISS

A political staffer on Wednesday told the court she saw Brittany Higgins and Bruce Lehrmann share a “passionate” kiss in the hours before Ms Higgins alleges she was raped in Parliament House by her former colleague, a court has heard.

Lauren Gain, who worked at the Department of Defence at the time, was present at two bars with Ms Higgins and Mr Lehrmann on the evening of March 22, 2019.

Mr Lehrmann arrived at The Dock pub with another colleague, Austin Wenke, where Ms Gain and Ms Higgins were drinking, the court heard.

Later that evening the four of them ended up drinking at another bar, 88MPH.

Ms Gain told the court that Ms Higgins was “intoxicated” at the 80s-themed bar and needed to be helped to her feet by Mr Lehrmann after falling over.

She told the court that she also saw Ms Higgins and Mr Lehrmann share a “passionate” kiss while seated at a booth.

“I remember Brittany and Bruce sitting quite close together, them being quite touchy with each other, I remember them kissing and her taking selfies of the two of them,” Ms Gain told the court.

She also said she saw Ms Higgins and Mr Lehrmann placing their hands on each other’s thighs.

During his evidence, Mr Lehrmann vehemently denied having “pashed” Ms Higgins at the club, telling the court: “I did not”.

Mr Wenke told the court that he did not recall seeing Ms Higgins and Mr Lehrmann kissing while at 88MPH.

“There’s nothing specific that I can recall in terms of those two (Ms Higgins and Mr Lehrmann),” Mr Wenke said.

LEHRMANN
Camera IconBrittany Higgins alleges she was raped in Parliament House in 2019. NCA NewsWire/Jeremy Piper. Credit: News Corp Australia
Lehrmann
Camera IconWitness Lauren Gain was at a Canberra bar with Brittany Higgins and Bruce Lehrmann. NCA NewsWire/Flavio Brancaleone. Credit: News Corp Australia

THE SETTLEMENT

Meanwhile, News Life Media and the ABC have lost a bid to keep the details of their settlement with Bruce Lehrmann kept confidential.

In May this year, Mr Lehrmann settled his defamation claim against News Life Media, the publisher of news.com.au, and journalist Samantha Maiden - who first broke the story in February 2021.

No compensation was paid to Mr Lehrmann however the company did agree to pay part of Mr Lehrmann’s legal costs relating to the suit before it was abandoned.

Mr Lehrmann also sued the ABC over Ms Higgins’ National Press Club speech.

The matter was set to be heard alongside the Network 10 proceedings, but on the opening day of the trial last month the court heard the matter had been settled.

In the Federal Court on Wednesday, News Life Media asked the amount paid towards Mr Lehrmann’s legal fees should be subject to a non-publication order.

The ABC sought broader orders, that the entirety of the public broadcaster’s settlement should be suppressed.

Barrister Dauid Sibtain SC, appearing for both media companies, argued he was seeking the orders on the basis that it was necessary for the “proper administration of justice”.

Lehrmann
Camera IconLisa Wilkinson and her barrister Sue Chrysanthou SC. NCA NewsWire/Damian Shaw. Credit: News Corp Australia

He argued that should the details of the confidential settlements be released, it would act as a disincentive for media companies in similar positions to resolve their claims.

“These parties and future parties will not be inclined to participate in a settlement process,” Mr Sibtain argued.

However Justice Michael Lee said that both arguments fell short of establishing “necessity” as he dismissed the application.

“I do not believe that either order should be made,” Justice Lee said.

In documents released by the Federal Court on Wednesday night, it was revealed that ABC has agreed to pay $150,000 in a settlement sum, including $143,000 as a contribution towards Mr Lehrmann’s costs of the proceedings and $7,000 for solicitors acting for Laura Tingle.

The payment was to be made within 14 days of settlement.

The national broadcaster also agreed to publish a statement in correcting and clarifying its actions, and remove the Facebook video showing the press club address.

It also agreed not to republish the video to YouTube after it was removed in April this year.

Mr Lehrmann’s case was dropped against News Life Media in May after he and the media company came to an agreement outside of court.

In documents released by the court on Wednesday, it was revealed the company paid Mr Lehrmann $295,000 towards his legal costs within seven days of the settlement.

News Life Media also had to place an Editor’s Note on the articles immediately, but did not have to make an apology to Mr Lehrmann.

No damages were paid and the two articles of concern remain online.

The trial continues before Justice Michael Lee.

Originally published as Brittany Higgins’ text to ex-boyfriend after alleged rape

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