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Police denies interfering with Brittany Higgins’ support, inquiry hears

A senior police member has defended a controversial decision to interview Brittany Higgins’ support person and Victims of Crime Commissioner about part of her evidence, an inquiry has heard.

user iconNaomi Neilson 26 May 2023 Big Law
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Following some tension with investigative police officers, Ms Higgins turned to the Victims of Crime Commissioner, Heidi Yates, to act as a support person and a liaison between herself and officers.

An inquiry examining the prosecution of her alleged attacker, Bruce Lehrmann, has heard police became nervous around Ms Yates because of her title and claimed it made it harder to do their job.

Mr Lehrmann has continued to maintain his innocence, and no findings have ever been made against him.

 
 

Senior Constable Emma Frizzell, who works in the Australian Police Force’s Sexual Assault and Child Abuse Team (SACAT), said this supportive relationship prevented her and other officers from establishing a relationship directly with Ms Higgins.

“I, for example, couldn’t communicate with her, and I couldn’t build that relationship that I ordinarily would,” Ms Frizzell said.

Asked by Mark Tedeschi, counsel for Director of Public Prosecutions Shane Drumgold, if this meant she held some resentment towards Ms Yates for her position, Ms Frizzell said: “Absolutely not.”

It was heard during the inquiry that Ms Frizzell had asked permission from Detective Superintendent Scott Moller to interview Ms Yates.

The controversial decision could have made it harder for Ms Yates to continue as a support person for Ms Higgins.

Questioned on whether this was intentional, Ms Frizzell said she thought it would only impact “her ability to be in court during the trial”.

Ms Yates was asked during this interview about a photograph on Ms Higgins’ phone that depicted a cocktail. It was said the photograph was taken on the night of the alleged incident.

Mr Tedeschi grilled Ms Frizzell on why this would even need to be asked, given it was not in contention that Ms Higgins and Mr Lehrmann had been drinking on the night.

Ms Frizzell insisted it was to corroborate that the image existed.

“It’s not so much of the fact that it was an image of a drink; it’s corroborating that there were images there. After I had downloaded (the contents of her phone), there are none. The evidence is saying there are no images,” Ms Frizzell told the inquiry.

“Ms Yates is corroborating they are in existence.”

Earlier in her examination, Ms Frizzell admitted she had misunderstood the legal test required to charge someone.

In a statement to the inquiry, Ms Frizzell said she believed the legal test was having a reasonable belief the evidence supported the prospects of a suspect’s conviction.

She admitted this was wrong.

“I would concede that I don’t have it right. What I’ve written in my statement is not right,” Ms Frizzell said.

This admission follows evidence from other witnesses that suggested some senior members were against charging Mr Lehrmann.

Asked if there was still confusion among police about this legal test, Ms Frizzell said there is.