Brittany Higgins wore dress she was allegedly raped in to Liberal function weeks later to ‘reclaim it’, court hears

<span>Photograph: Bianca de Marchi/AAP</span>
Photograph: Bianca de Marchi/AAP

Brittany Higgins has told a court she wore the white dress she was allegedly raped in six weeks later to a Liberal function in an attempt to “reclaim it” and “disassociate it from the rape”.

But what was once her “favourite” pencil dress that she “used to wear all the time” was not reclaimed and was never worn again, Higgins told the federal court on Friday.

Higgins appeared in court on Friday for a second day of cross-examination in a defamation case brought by the former Liberal party staffer Bruce Lehrmann. Lehrmann is suing 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 and Higgins is a witness for the defence.

In December, ACT prosecutors dropped charges against Lehrmann for the alleged rape of Higgins, saying a retrial would pose an “unacceptable risk” to her health.

Lehrmann had pleaded not guilty to one charge of sexual intercourse without consent, denying that any sexual activity had occurred in the first trial which was aborted due to juror misconduct.

Higgins told the court on Thursday she accepted a position in Perth with Linda Reynolds after the alleged rape, but said she was isolated and suicidal and she felt the senator avoided her.

In court on Friday, Whybrow asked Higgins: “Do you have any recollection of your thought processes in wearing the dress that you say you were sexually assaulted in to the birthday party of the person you say for the last several weeks had been isolating you and treating you poorly?’”

“I guess I was trying to reclaim it,” Higgins told the court. “I never wore it after this event. I thought maybe I could disassociate it from the rape, but I never could.”

Higgins fired up again on Friday when her testimony that she reported her rape to her new employer, Liberal senator Michaelia Cash in 2019, was questioned.

“I don’t think I went to the level of [giving details about the venues] but I just told them about being sexually assaulted,” Higgins said, before correcting herself and saying “rape”.

“Sorry, I just want to be honest – raped on the couch. I told them that and then the next morning.”

The court was played segments of an hours-long pre-interview with Wilkinson and her producer Angus Llewellyn in which Higgins and her partner, David Sharaz, discussed the timing of the story and its political impact.

One of the exchanges was about whether the then opposition leader, Anthony Albanese, could have been helpful to pushing the story ahead, in which Wilkinson said he was “a bit of a dead duck at the moment”.

Sharaz then suggested in the recording that the Labor senator Katy Gallagher could bring it up in parliament.

Higgins denied a suggestion from Whybrow that she leaked her story to the media in order to damage the Liberal party ahead of the 2022 federal election.

Related: Brittany Higgins visibly angry and in tears as Bruce Lehrmann’s barrister accuses her of lying about alleged rape

Whybrow asked Higgins: “Are you seriously contending to His Honour that one of your motivations for this story was not to cause political damage to the Liberal party?”

Higgins said it was “not about the Liberal party”, but “about women in politics”.

“I had no intention of impacting the election, but I did want to change the culture in Parliament House,” Higgins said.

“I was angry at the culture of Parliament House and I was hurt by the Liberal party, but I was still a Liberal.

“[I am] no longer, but was still for a really long time.”

Higgins said while she was hurt by Reynolds and Brown, she did not see them as villains in her story.

“Fiona Brown was just following instructions and I’ve never blamed her and I don’t blame her,” Higgins said.

“Linda Reynolds avoided me in my view, and did not meet her duty of care … but I don’t count them as villains in this story. I just don’t think they did the right thing by me.”

Higgins was cross-examined about the media strategy, including briefing the journalist Samantha Maiden and giving a background document of a timeline of events to multiple journalists in the Canberra press gallery on 15 February 2021.

“David sent it to, like, half the press gallery,” Higgins said.

Higgins told the court they had to distribute the timeline widely because there was so much press interest in her story and they were “overwhelmed” by inquiries.

Higgins said she had inadvertently included Lehrmann’s name in the briefing document distributed to journalists and that the date she went to the police, 26 March 2019, was wrong on the timeline document.

Her initial report to officers in Parliament House in 2019, days after the alleged rape, was withdrawn and a second report was then made to officers in Belconnen in 2021.

Higgins returns to the witness box on Tuesday.

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