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DPP directs police chief to keep officers away from defence team

ACT’s Director of Public Prosecutions made “exceptionally serious allegations” that minister Linda Reynolds and senior police officers were involved in a “political conspiracy” to derail Bruce Lehrmann’s rape trial, an inquiry has heard.

user iconNaomi Neilson 11 May 2023 Big Law
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In a letter to the Australian Federal Police’s Chief Police Officer Neil Gaughan, DPP Shane Drumgold SC alleged there was “clear investigator interference in the criminal justice system process” and there would need to be an inquiry into “political and police conduct”.

Mr Drumgold also requested police members be prohibited from talking with the defence team, speaking with complainant Brittany Higgins or being in the courtroom unless giving formal evidence.

An independent inquiry into Mr Lehrmann’s prosecution heard the letter was sent to Mr Gaughan a week after the trial had been vacated due to juror misconduct and in the context that Mr Drumgold believed there may be a retrial of the rape allegations.


“Amongst other things, the main thrust of the letter was to isolate certain police officers from engaging in the trial to aggravate an already fragile complainant,” Mr Drumgold told the inquiry.

Mr Lehrmann has continued to deny he raped Ms Higgins.

During day three of the inquiry, Mr Drumgold alleged there were “strange things” that had occurred between senior police members and Ms Reynolds before and during the trial that prompted the letter.

This included a “passion with which a number of police held that this matter shouldn’t proceed” and an alleged disclosure of documents from police “that shouldn’t have been disclosed”.

Mr Drumgold told the inquiry on day two that these concerns also prevented him from disclosing a report prepared by Detective Superintendent Scott Moller in June 2021 that he said contained “somebody just offering gratuitous stereotyping” about Ms Higgins.

The inquiry clarified a rule that barristers are not permitted to prevent or discourage witnesses from being interviewed by the opponent.

Counsel assisting, Erin Longbottom KC, asked Mr Drumgold if he saw any issue with directing police to stay out of the courtroom.

“Not in the context of what was happening in this trial,” he said.

“Our concern was that things were occurring that were not in keeping with (police) obligations. Were a defence lawyer to talk on friendly terms with a police officer, that would warm my heart.

“But I am concerned I have a police officer who has committed to writing both inadmissible evidence and has drawn very strong opinions … and potentially feeding those opinions to defence.”

Mr Drumgold also made a “number of serious allegations” about Ms Reynolds, such as that she had “directly solicited transcripts” from the trial so she could tailor her own evidence.

He alleged Ms Reynolds had her husband sit in the courtroom and pass on information to her.

“I thought there was sufficient evidence there. She was a witness in the trial, he knew she was a witness and he ended up in the courtroom. I thought there was significant circumstantial evidence that she had facilitated that,” Mr Drumgold alleged.

Asked by Ms Longbottom whether he should have put these perceptions in writing given there was no substantial evidence, Mr Drumgold said he “didn’t think I had a choice but to raise them”.

‘Cruel’ media headlines came close to ending public inquiry

Halfway through day three, inquiry chair Walter Sofronoff KC said he came close to moving the inquiry into a closed hearing because of several “defamatory” media reports concerning Ms Higgins.

These reports included parts of a document that aired allegations about Ms Higgins that were not disclosable in the criminal trial.

“It’s a mean and cruel thing to do to somebody,” Mr Sofronoff said.

Lawyer for Mr Drumgold, Mark Tedeschi AM KC, who was not speaking on his client’s behalf but as an “officer of the court”, said the reporting was “sheer scuttlebutt” and “belongs to the stone ages”.

“If they thought about it even for a few seconds, they would realise the publication of such information will discourage future complainants (of sexual assault) … from coming forward,” he said.

Mr Sofronoff said the public hearings were vital for the community to understand and assess the information.