‘I could not have consented’: Higgins to colleague
An emotional Brittany Higgins made confronting statements about her inability to consent days after being allegedly raped on a minister’s couch by Bruce Lehrmann.
Brittany Higgins (centre) pictured leaving after her final day in the witness stand at the Federal Court of Australia in Sydney, last week. (AAP Image/Dean Lewins)
Her mother has also told of her daughter was a “broken soul” who had become withdrawn and lost her enthusiasm for life after the claimed sexual assault.
Former departmental liaison officer Christopher Payne says he saw a teary-eyed Ms Higgins walking past his office early in the week after a reported security incident at Parliament House on Saturday, March 23, 2019.
He told a Federal Court defamation trial on Monday that the junior media adviser spoke of waking up on a couch in the office of her then-boss, Senator Linda Reynolds, to find fellow staffer Lehrmann on top of her.
“I said, ‘Did he rape you?’,” Payne said.
“Her response was, ‘I could not have consented. It would have been like f***ing a log’.”
These “confronting” words by a young woman in tears in his office stuck with him, he added.
Payne, now a government relationship manager for the Australian Institute of Marine Science, was giving evidence as Network Ten and journalist Lisa Wilkinson tried to establish the truth of the rape allegation featured in a February 2021 broadcast of The Project.
Lehrmann claims this report is defamatory and denies that any sexual contact between himself and Higgins occurred.
Higgins’ mother Kelly Higgins said her daughter came to live with her soon after the report on The Project and she was a totally different person to the woman she was before the alleged sexual assault.
“Her joy was gone, her desire was gone, her personal happiness was gone,” she said.
“She is a broken soul.”
In November 2019, Ms Higgins first disclosed the rape allegation to her mother and her mother’s then-partner at a restaurant.
“I’d just been told a mother’s worst nightmare,” she said.
Earlier, Payne told Justice Michael Lee he was called into the office of Senator Reynolds’ acting chief of staff Fiona Brown days after Higgins was allegedly raped.
“You’re never going to believe this,” Brown allegedly said to Payne of the “security incident”.
In that discussion, Brown said Higgins had been found in a “state of undress” in Reynolds’ office and that Lehrmann had been fired.
Earlier on Monday, federal agents Rebecca Cleaves and Katie Thelning gave evidence about a meeting they had with Higgins on April 1, 2019 in the basement of Parliament House.
It was the first time Higgins had gone to the police regarding the rape claim.
In her notes, Ms Cleaves wrote that Higgins described waking up to find Lehrmann on top of her and saying “no” or “don’t”.
She reported passing out afterwards and waking up confused to find him gone but with the smell of sex still lingering in the air.
She told police she had vomit stains on her dress and she used Reynolds’ deodorant before borrowing a jacket from the goodwill box in the office and leaving Parliament House.
Higgins said she had later gone to work and acted cordially with Lehrmann, Thelning said.
“I put what happened away so it wouldn’t be a narrative to my life’s story,” Higgins purportedly told the federal agents.
“I am quite good at doing this.”
The trial has run for over a week-and-a-half and is expected to go into the final week before Christmas, the court heard on Monday.
Lehrmann was charged in August 2021 over the alleged rape, but his criminal trial in the ACT Supreme Court was derailed by juror misconduct.
Prosecutors did not seek a second trial, citing concerns for Higgins’ mental health.
Lehrmann is also before Queensland courts accused of raping another woman twice in Toowoomba in October 2021.
He has not yet entered a plea, but his lawyers have indicated he denies the charges.
1800 RESPECT (1800 737 732)
National Sexual Abuse and Redress Support Service 1800 211 028