Brittany Higgins was at times visibly angry and emotional as she refuted suggestions she lied about her alleged rape and changed her story during cross-examination in the federal court.
Bruce Lehrmann has brought a defamation case against Network Ten and journalist Lisa Wilkinson over an interview with Higgins on Ten’s The Project in which she alleged she was raped by a Liberal staffer in Parliament House. Network Ten and Wilkinson are defending the case.
During cross-examination on Thursday, Bruce Lehrmann’s barrister, Steve Whybrow SC, who also cross-examined Higgins at the criminal trial in the ACT last year, asked her if she had told the truth during the criminal trial.
“I thought I was telling the truth,” Higgins said. “I was just not always correct. But I was always doing my best.”
Lehrmann has denied raping Higgins and pleaded not guilty to a charge of sexual intercourse without consent in the ACT case. His criminal trial was abandoned due to juror misconduct and the second did not proceed due to prosecutors’ fears for Higgins’ mental health.
Whybrow tried to pick holes in Higgins’ story, including whether she was naked after the alleged rape or had her dress bunched up around her waist. He put it to her that her recollection differed from that of a female security guard who found her.
“As I was being raped, it wasn’t my primary concern where my dress was … I was deeply more concerned about the penis in my vagina that I didn’t want than I was about my dress,” Higgins said through angry tears.
“I wasn’t concerned about my dress in that moment. But the next morning when I woke up and vomited into the toilet, the first thing I did wasn’t [to think] ‘where’s my dress? Is it on my body or is it on the ground?’”
It was just one of the forceful answers she gave Whybrow when he suggested she lied in media interviews, to police or to her employers.
Whybrow suggested she lied about the alleged rape to keep her job and that she didn’t accuse Lehrmann until she realised she may have been in trouble at work.
“And you didn’t have sex with anybody that night you passed out drunk in the minister’s personal suite,” Whybrow put it to her. “That’s correct, isn’t it?”
Higgins replied: “It’s insulting and it’s incorrect, but you’re entitled to your opinion … My job is not that important.”
Whybrow then asked: “The first time you made any allusion to anything potentially non-consensual or unwanted, or even involving Mr Lehrmann, in a personal sense, was on the Thursday [after the alleged rape on Saturday morning]. You disagree with that?”
Higgins disagreed, saying she told two people on the Tuesday and on the Wednesday after the alleged rape on Saturday morning.
Higgins said she didn’t initially recall that Lehrmann had attempted to kiss her on a night out before the alleged incident but it certainly did happen.
Whybrow put it to her that her account of events at Lehrmann’s criminal trial differed from testimony she has given to the federal court in this defamation trial.
Whybrow said: “And what I’m suggesting to you is that you intentionally gave false evidence to try and explain away a damning email that is inconsistent with your claims that you were sexually assaulted by Mr Lehrmann.”
Higgins said: “I would never intentionally give false evidence, especially in this context.”
Whybrow took Higgins though media interviews she had given to The Project and news.com.au and suggested the evidence she gave to the federal court was different on some points.
Whybrow said: “I’m suggesting to you that you alter and evolve your evidence as you find that extra information. Do you accept that?”
Higgins replied: “No, it’s just when something’s put to me that’s clear I didn’t refute that … I can understand that memory is imperfect.
“I can’t remember every moment of every day.”
Higgins admitted she initially lied to police about having gone to the doctor after the alleged rape, but she did so because she was embarrassed she didn’t get a rape kit done. She also admitted lying to her boss and a friend about her plans to go to the doctor, saying she was “terrified” to go.
“I wasn’t looking after myself. I hadn’t gone to a doctor,’’ Higgins said.
“I kept making appointments. But I didn’t do it.”
Higgins said it was incorrect of Whybrow to suggest she didn’t go to a doctor because she “hadn’t actually been sexually assaulted”.
“I didn’t have a support system,” Higgins said. “I was by myself in Canberra. I had no one around me so I was so scared.”
Higgins was cross-examined about her plans to write a book and taken through a draft she had sent to the publisher in which Whybrow said there were inconsistencies.
Higgins said her testimony was the truth and the book was an early draft, even referring to the manuscript as “crap” at one point.
Higgins said the book contract was on pause and if she ever did write a book she would donate all the money to charity.
Asked if she has a financial interest in the outcome of the defamation proceedings Higgins said: “I declare it now, if I ever actually finish the book, I will donate [the outstanding contractual sum of $216,667] to charity. I don’t care about the money.
“Take it as an oath right now. I don’t care about it.”
Higgins continues her cross-examination on Friday.