A senior police officer has backed down on his criticism of the ACT’s Victims of Crime Commissioner and her actions in the aborted Bruce Lehrmann trial.
Detective Superintendent Scott Moller’s about-face came during his third day on the stand in an inquiry into how criminal justice agencies handled Brittany Higgins’ rape allegation.
Mr Lehrmann pleaded not guilty to one charge of sexually assaulting his former colleague at Parliament House in 2019, before the trial was aborted due to jury misconduct.
Mr Lehrmann has continually denied the allegation and the Director of Public Prosecutions declined to pursue a second trial due to concerns over Ms Higgins’ mental health and dropped the charge.
On Tuesday, the top cop detailed his frustration at the involvement of VCC Heidi Yates in the case.
Ms Yates acted as an intermediary between police and Ms Higgins during the investigation and was a prominent fixture at her side during the trial.
Superintendent Moller had earlier claimed she made it hard for investigators to do their job and said the arrangement was “inappropriate”.
But under questioning from Ms Yates’ lawyer, Peggy Dwyer, on Wednesday, the senior police officer walked back his comments. He conceded he had not read the legislation outlining the VCC’s role.
“I can absolutely see that it’s within the role for Ms Yates to be involved in matters like this as a support person if she chooses to,” he said.
Superintendent Moller had also claimed Ms Yates’ involvement did not help police.
But Ms Dwyer tendered evidence that suggested after the VCC came on board, police were able to secure a second police interview with Ms Higgins and access to her phones, after asking eight times.
“So you see between February and May you’ve had real difficulties of the police getting in touch with Ms Higgins,” the counsel said.
“Ms Yates gets involved and there’s almost immediate facilitation of this interview, correct?”
“Understanding Ms Yates could have had difficulty with Ms Higgins as well. Yes, it made it easier,” Superintendent Moller responded.
He added Ms Higgins’ “drive” to be in the media had fractured the relationship between police and the complainant.
The inquiry also heard Ms Yates had specifically asked police if her presence as Ms Higgins’ support person at the interview was “suitable” to which nobody raised an issue.
MOLLER GRILLED OVER ‘LIKED’ POST
The senior police officer kicked off his third day in the witness box being grilled after a comment he liked on LinkedIn resurfaced.
Superintendent Moller expressed approval for another user‘s comment that was made under a post which included quotes extracted from an article in The Australian newspaper that detailed a “push” for Shane Drumgold SC, to resign as the DPP.
Superintendent Moller ‘liked’ the person’s comment: “Mr Lehrmann is innocent until proven otherwise.”
“I was deeply shocked by some of the prosecutor’s reported words. This young man deserves the justice of our court and reporting system.
“He should not be negatively labelled for the rest of his life”.
The comment was made in the weeks after Mr Drumgold dropped the charge against Mr Lehrmann.
Counsel representing Mr Drumgold, Mark Tedeschi KC, suggested it was “inappropriate” for the lead investigator like such a comment.
The silk suggested the act showed he was “biased” in favour of Mr Lehrmann.
“No, I don't agree with that. What I believe it shows is that I liked the comment, I agreed with the comment,” he said.
“In hindsight, and on reflection, I shouldn't have liked the comment.”
The inquiry has previously heard that while he was convinced to proceed with the charge of Mr Lehrmann, the superintendent and his team had concerns there was not enough evidence to prosecute him.
SEXUAL ASSAULT TEAM USED AS TRAINING GROUND
Superintendent Moller told the inquiry the team that investigates sexual assaults in the ACT is often used as a “training ground” for “budding detectives”.
“They are young, very inexperienced officers … we take pride in the fact that a lot of the experience is gained with us before they move on into other parts of the organisation,” he said on Wednesday.
“So it’s a development area …. a training ground, I guess, for budding detectives to learn their strategies.”
He said one of the main problems for ACT policing was the level of experience of leaders had been “diluted” and managers were under more pressure as a result.
“We’ve depleted the experience to an extent where we have very young officers running investigations with less than ideal direction from a senior officer,” the senior police officer said.
Superintendent Moller gave evidence that out of the 27 officers in the three teams across the sexual assault and child abuse team (SACAT), only four had completed the AFP training programs for detectives.
The inquiry head fewer than four had completed the sexual assault training. He had not completed the training either.
“Obviously there’s a place for the academic aspects of training, but, you know, much of their training in ACT policing is derived from experience,” he said.
It comes as the senior investigator denied police were undercharging alleged sexual assault offenders in the ACT.
The inquiry was shown a report on Wednesday from the Sexual Assault Prevention and Review steering committee which showed when Ms Higgins made her complaint, the number offences that led to a charge was just 7 per cent.
Mark Tedeschi KC, counsel representing Mr Drumgold, suggested the statistics reflected the fact police were “undercharging” in the ACT.
Superintendent Moller “absolutely” rejected the assertion and the findings of the report.
“The team that work on sex assault cases are a dedicated, professional group of investigators,” he said.
“From my perspective, the data is not accurate.”
POLICE DID NOT HAVE OUTDATED VIEWS: MOLLER
The top cop also denied having outdated views towards the credibility of complainants in sexual assault cases.
Under a tense questioning from Mr Tedeschi, Superintendent Moller repeatedly declined to say he was wrong for holding the view there was insufficient evidence to charge Mr Lehrmann.
He also rejected the suggestion he did not understand the threshold of evidence required to lay charges.
The senior police officer also stood by his decision to raise his concerns about Ms Higgins’ credibility with the DPP and his supervisors.
“I think ultimately the jury decides, I’d agree with that, but it’s certainly not my role to filter that evidence or decide on whether that information or evidence goes to the jury,” he said.
“My role is to provide all of that information for the decision makers. I’m not that person.”
He has previously told the inquiry his opinion changed after receiving written advice from the DPP, but conceded his team held “deep seeded views”.
The inquiry continues.