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ACT’s top prosecutor admits ‘mistake’ in sensational trial allegations

Just a day after explosive allegations of a political conspiracy to derail Bruce Lehrmann’s trial were aired in a public inquiry, ACT’s top prosecutor has withdrawn them.

user iconNaomi Neilson 12 May 2023 Big Law
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On his fourth day of questioning in an inquiry examining how Mr Lehrmann’s trial was handled, Director of Public Prosecutions Shane Drumgold SC said his suspicions have been “allayed” after having read several statements from police and political inquiry witnesses.

Mr Drumgold levelled the allegations against senior police members and MP Linda Reynolds, who Mr Lehrmann and his accuser Brittany Higgins worked for at the time of the alleged March 2019 rape.

Mr Lehrmann maintains his innocence.

 
 

“I have not formed a view solidly one way or another, but I thought there were enough incidences to make it possible, if not probable,” Mr Drumgold said on day three of the inquiry.

On Thursday (11 May), Mr Drumgold withdrew this when he was asked by chair Walter Sofronoff KC if he would acknowledge his suspicions of a political motivation to upend the prosecution “were mistaken”.

“I do accept that,” Mr Drumgold said.

Mr Drumgold’s counsel, Mark Tedeschi KC, also asked him if his suspicions have been allayed since the inquiry began.

“Yes, they have been,” Mr Drumgold confirmed.

In Parliament on early Thursday morning, Ms Reynolds said Mr Drumgold’s conspiracy suggestions were “baseless”, and it was “disturbing that this view was offered under oath yesterday”.

Mr Tedeschi later took Mr Drumgold to a text message Ms Reynolds sent to Mr Lehrmann’s defence lawyer, Steven Whybrow SC, just after Ms Higgins’ cross-examination began in October last year.

In the message discussed during the inquiry, Ms Reynolds told Mr Whybrow there were messages sent between Ms Higgins and colleague Nicole Harmer that would be “revealing”.

Asked by Mr Tedeschi if he thought Ms Reynolds was trying to assist the defence with their cross-examination, Mr Drumgold said he did.

“(Ms Reynolds) uses a specific word: ‘you might want to look at these, you might find them revealing’.

“It is pretty difficult for me to draw any other conclusion other than that she thought those text messages might assist him in the cross-examination of Ms Higgins that had just started,” Mr Drumgold said.

Detectives investigating rape allegations ‘lost objectivity’

Mr Drumgold has maintained several key police members held a “passionate” view that Mr Lehrmann should not be convicted, including Senior Detective Marcus Boorman, who had allegedly claimed he would resign if the prosecution’s case won.

“He held such a passionate view in his innocence that he was willing to leave the job over it. I have enormous sympathy. Clearly, he lost objectivity to an extent that he was going to resign.

“That’s evidence that he too passionately held what was, in my view, an incorrect analysis,” Mr Drumgold said.

M Drumgold added another “key” officer said he would be “physically ill when charges were laid”.

“If you’re central to an investigation and your mindset is that you’re going to be physically ill (when charges are laid) … it can’t do anything but interfere with your objectivity,” Mr Drumgold told the inquiry.

During his evidence, Mr Drumgold alleged some officers had let their bias around sexual assault complainants cloud their objectivity.

He referenced a report written by Detective Superintendent Scott Moller in June 2021 that made several “stereotypical analyses”, including that “genuine complainants won’t go to the media”.

DPP’s workload overwhelming during trial

Near the end of Mr Tedeschi’s questioning, he asked Mr Drumgold if his workload could have influenced his actions after the trial.

This includes sending a letter to the Australian Federal Police’s chief police officer that levelled serious allegations at senior police members and asked them to steer clear of the defence team.

“I never like to blame workload; we do what has to be done.

“But the reality is we had a brief of so many tens, if not hundreds of thousands of documents. You do your best to go through it, and you do your best not to overlook things,” Mr Drumgold said.

Asked to clarify what else he had to work on, he said there were several other sexual assault trials happening in the background.

Mr Drumgold also added there was only “a very small team” working on Mr Lehrmann’s trial.