Bruce Lehrmann has admitted to taking cocaine on the night he learned he was the subject of sexual assault allegations, telling a court he “spiralled” after watching Brittany Higgins’ The Project interview.
Mr Lehrmann took to the witness stand in the Federal Court on Monday where he was grilled about his reason for going back to Parliament House in the early hours of March 23, 2019 and his reaction after the story broke just under two years later.
Mr Lehrmann is suing Network 10 and journalist Lisa Wilkinson for defamation over their reporting of sexual assault allegations made by Ms Higgins on The Project on February 15, 2021.
He has denied that he had sexually assaulted Ms Higgins in the office of Senator Reynolds.
On his fifth day in the witness stand, the court heard that Mr Lehrmann watched Ms Higgins’ interview that evening from his lawyer’s office before making plans to meet up with friends.
Dr Collins on Monday read to the court texts Mr Lehrmann exchanged with his friends that night in which they discussed obtaining cocaine.
“The next message you were telling him to bring something with him … Was that because you decided to spend some time that night with friends and that substance,” Ten’s barrister Dr Matt Collins asked.
“Yes Dr Collins, I spiralled pretty quickly,” Mr Lehrmann told the court.
“I’m sorry, your reaction to spiralling was to ask to have cocaine brought to you?” Dr Collins asked.
“I was in a bad place, yes,” Mr Lehrmann said.
Mr Lehrmann was also grilled about the conflicting versions of events he gave to various people about why he went back to parliament in the early hours of March 23, 2019 after drinking at several Canberra pubs, including The Dock and 88MPH.
He admitted to lying to Parliament House security that morning that he was there to pick up documents for Senator Reynolds and he later told his boss Fiona Brown that he went back there to drink alcohol.
Mr Lehrmann told the court that he went back to collect his keys and spent 30 to 40 minutes writing ministerial notes while they were fresh in his mind after being told information at The Dock.
THE QUESTION TIME FOLDERS
He was grilled by Ten’s barrister Dr Matt Collins SC why he needed to make notes early that morning when he had been drinking for several hours.
“Can you identify any information that you learned either at The Dock or 88MPH on the 22nd of March that was relevant to the work you were doing for the minister concerning question time briefs,” Dr Collins asked.
“Not now, I don’t have those folders,” Mr Lehrmann said.
Mr Lehrmann added that the information related to the “French submarine contract”.
On the stand on Monday, Mr Lehrmann admitted he was finishing up the following week, he had already completed all his work in the minister’s office and parliament wasn’t sitting the following week.
“Mr Lehrmann there was no need whatsoever to be writing on Question Time folders at 2am on the 23rd of March 2019,” Dr Collins asked.
“I disagree,” Mr Lehrmann said.
“AND YOU KNOW IT TO BE FALSE”
Mr Lehrmann told the court he had “discussions” with “many people” at The Dock bar.
He previously told the court that he socialised with Ms Higgins, a male colleague and friend, Liberal staffer Lauren Gain and several Aide-de-camps.
Dr Collins questioned who he was having conversations with about sensitive political matters given Mr Lehrmann had in his evidence described Aide-de-camps as “handbag carriers for the minister” and “low level administrative roles”.
“The explanation that you’ve given, that the information you learned at The Dock was so important and relevant to questions the minister might be asked in Question Time, that you needed to capture it while intoxicated, in the ministerial suite at about 2am on Saturday the 23rd of March is a false explanation,” Dr Collins said.
“No,” Mr Lehrmann said.
“And you know it to be false,” Dr Collins said.
“No,” Mr Lehrmann said.
“EXACTLY THE OPPOSITE”
Mr Lehrmann has been accused of giving conflicting answers about when he learned Ms Higgins had made rape allegations against him.
Before Ms Higgins’ The Project interview was broadcast on February 15, 2021, the story was broken by journalist Samantha Maiden earlier that day.
On Monday, Mr Lehrmann was asked whether, when he read Ms Maiden’s article that morning, he realised the allegations related to him.
“Not at that moment I did not,” Mr Lehrmann told the court on Monday.
Mr Lehrmann last week told the court he only became aware he was being accused of sexual assault later that day when his boss was emailed by a journalist from The Australian.
However, Dr Collins took Mr Lehrmann to evidence he gave to the Federal Court in pre-trial proceedings in March this year.
On that occasion he gave evidence he knew the news.com.au article was about him and he believed it damaged his reputation, the court heard.
“You had seen an article on news.com.au and you realised it was about you,” he was asked in March this year.
“Yes,” he replied at the time.
Dr Collins asked on Monday: “Can you offer any explanation to his honour about why you answered that question in exactly the opposite manner on the 16th of March?”
“I can’t I’m sorry,” Mr Lehrmann said.
LETTER REVEALS LIE
Mr Lehrmann admitted to lying to Senator Reynolds in an email as he was facing the sack.
On Monday, Mr Lehrmann was asked to pack up his things and leave Senator Reynolds’ office following a meeting with Ms Brown on Tuesday March 26.
Afterwards he was sent a show cause notice by Senator Reynolds asking why he shouldn’t be sacked for serious misconduct.
In an emailed reply on Friday April 5, 2019, he said he was no longer in Canberra and he was dealing with a family emergency.
“That is why I retreated to Queensland to see my mother who has been sick for a number of months now,” Mr Lehrmann said in the email, which was tendered to the court.
Dr Collins on Monday showed him texts which Mr Lehrmann had also sent to his mother on April 5.
The court heard he texted his mother saying: “So I’m thinking of coming up on Monday (April 8).
“These messages confirm that you certainly weren’t in Queensland on the 5th of April, as you represented in your letter to the minister,” Dr Collins said.
“Well yes,” Mr Lehrmann replied.
Ten says it made several attempts to contact Mr Lehrmann before going to air, including when a producer sent an email to his personal hotmail address.
However Mr Lehrmann says he didn’t receive the email until a week later.
The court heard on Monday afternoon that he was sent texts by a friend on the day the story broke asking: “Know this chick?”
“Yeah, worked with her briefly ... Was at team drinks etc,” Mr Lehrmann replied.
He was asked by another friend whether he knew “who the Canberra rape guy is”.
“No idea mate in the slightest ... I haven’t been approached,” Mr Lehrmann replied.
Mr Lehrmann was pulled into a meeting on Tuesday March 26 by Ms Brown, who was Senator Reynolds’ chief of staff, where he was ordered to pack up his things and leave the office.
Ten’s barrister Dr Matt Collins KC on Monday asked Mr Lehrmann about notes made by Ms Brown during the meeting.
Mr Lehrmann denied telling Ms Brown that he “chatted” to Ms Higgins while in the minister’s office.
“I don’t recall that part of the meeting with Ms Brown,” Mr Lehrmann said, denying he remembered saying those words.
Mr Lehrmann previously told the court that once inside the minister’s office, he went to the left and Ms Higgins went to the right, in the direction of the minister’s personal suite.
On Monday Mr Lehrmann added that he only talked to Ms Higgins as they entered the minister’s office before he went to one end of the office and she went in the opposite direction.
Dr Collins also asked whether Ms Brown had further questioned him on what he had done in the office.
Dr Collins questioned whether he had responded: “I don’t want to get into that.”
“I don’t recall that happening,” Mr Lehrmann said.
CCTV played to the court last week showed Mr Lehrmann and Ms Higgins entering the minister’s office before Mr Lehrmann later emerged and caught an Uber home.
According to his version of events, he entered the office to retrieve his keys and while there he worked on some ministerial briefs.
“That did not happen Dr Collins” and “No, Dr Collins” Mr Lehrmann repeatedly said as he was questioned about the alleged sexual assault.
According to his version of events, he did not see Ms Higgins after they initially entered the office and he never had sexual intercourse with her.
The court heard on Friday that Mr Lehrmann had dinner with a friend at a Canberra pub earlier that evening, before meeting up with Ms Higgins and other colleagues at The Dock bar for drinks. Mr Lehrmann earlier told the court he only bought drinks for a male colleague while at the Dock.
At one point on Friday, when pressed on whether he recalled buying Ms Higgins two vodka drinks, Mr Lehrmann said his “mind is blank” and asked for a short adjournment.
When Mr Lehrmann returned to the witness stand, he said he now recalled buying Ms Higgins a drink.
“You were trying to get Ms Higgins drunk,” Dr Collins said.
“No I wasn’t,” Mr Lehrmann said.
Mr Lehrmann stood trial in the ACT Supreme Court last year after pleading not guilty to sexual assault, but the trial was aborted due to juror misconduct.
The charges were subsequently dropped and no adverse findings have been made against him.
The trial continues.
TWO CROSS-EXAMINATIONS ‘UNFAIR’
Meanwhile Ms Wilkinson’s barrister Sue Chrysanthou SC will be limited in her cross examination of Mr Lehrmann.
She is due to question Mr Lehrmann when Dr Collins is finished with his cross examination.
Justice Michael Lee raised the prospect that it would be “unfair” to allow Ms Chrysanthou to cross examine Mr Lehrmann on matters which he had already been asked about.