Police felt 'significant pressure' during Higgins case

·3-min read
Mick Tsikas/AAP PHOTOS

Police officers felt "significant pressure" to charge former Liberal staffer Bruce Lehrmann which led to some usual processes being skipped, an inquiry has been told.

But Australian Federal Police Detective Superintendent Scott Moller, the lead investigator in the matter, admitted he and other officers made some errors during the high-profile case.

Supt Moller is the first police officer to give evidence at an independent inquiry examining how the ACT justice system handled the matter. 

He was involved in investigating Brittany Higgins' allegation Mr Lehrmann, a former colleague, raped her after a night out in 2019 inside the Parliament House office of then coalition minister Linda Reynolds.

Mr Lerhmann had always denied the allegation.

Supt Moller said police were wrong to provide Ms Higgins' sensitive counselling notes to prosecutors and defence lawyers.

"That's the bottom line, we shouldn't have handed them over and it's a mistake that we made," he told the inquiry on Monday.

He admitted a briefing on the case written for AFP Commander Michael Chew, which challenged Ms Higgins' credibility, did not also note that investigators found elements of Mr Lehrmann's account implausible.

While Supt Moller agreed he could have given his commander more information in the brief, he had provided the entire investigation file for review.

"I accept that the more information you can provide the better, (but) in fairness I provided the file path and the information the investigators had in relation to the breadth of evidence. Everything was there," he said.

"Could I have put some of those details in the report to (Commander Chew)? I could have. I accept that. But I was highlighting what I thought were the key issues."

The senior police officer said it was difficult to articulate the collective pressure coming from the public, media and within his own organisation for Mr Lehrmann to be served with a court summons.

"There was a significant amount of pressure. There was a real desire to expedite this process and get Mr Lehrmann before the court," he said.

This pressure led to police skipping usual processes and Supt Moller said he didn't think there was enough evidence to charge Mr Lehrmann.

He said the stress of the investigation impacted many police officers, some of whom had to take leave from work.

After Ms Higgins' counselling notes were mistakenly provided to the prosecution and defence teams, Supt Moller said he was concerned ACT Director of Public Prosecutions Shane Drumgold was trying to "collect evidence" to criticise police. 

"It caused me quite a lot of concern for myself and my investigation team, so much so that we continually second-guessed ourselves about what we were doing and how we were doing it," he said.

"I wanted to absolutely make certain that we were doing everything perfectly, I didn't want to miss anything because I was continually concerned about (Drumgold) and what I thought was collecting information about us not doing the right thing."

Mr Drumgold believed police had a "passion" for the prosecution to fail and criticised their decision to conduct a second interview with Ms Higgins, something which is unusual in sexual assault cases.

But Supt Moller stood by this part of the investigation and said police had an obligation to look at inconsistencies in a complainant's account.

He said officers were concerned by some of the evidence given to them by Ms Higgins and wanted to clarify this through a second interview.

Mr Lehrmann faced a trial in the ACT Supreme Court in October 2022 but juror misconduct meant a verdict was not reached.

The charge was later dropped due to concerns about the impact a second trial would have on the mental health of Ms Higgins.