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Colleague raised Bruce Lehrmann’s treatment of Brittany Higgins weeks before alleged rape, court hears

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

The former Liberal media adviser Nicky Hamer has told the federal court she was so angry about Bruce Lehrmann grabbing Brittany Higgins’ phone in an attempt to stop her leaving the pub one night she resigned from Senator Linda Reynolds’ office hours later.

Hamer said in early March 2019, three weeks before the night Higgins claims Lehrmann raped her, Lehrmann said he thought Higgins was “good-looking” and asked Hamer to invite her to the pub for a drink.

But when Higgins tried to leave to go to the night noodle markets Lehrmann grabbed her phone to stop her calling an Uber, Hamer said.

Related: ABC agreed to pay Bruce Lehrmann $150,000 to settle defamation claim, court documents reveal

Last week Higgins told the court Lehrmann snatched her phone “in jest” and told her to stay and have another drink on the night she first met him at a celebration drinks for Reynolds.

On Wednesday Hamer said she felt as if she “was being ganged up on by Bruce” and his behaviour at the Kingston hotel that night made her feel “uncomfortable” so she sent a late-night resignation email.

The court heard Reynolds later talked Hamer out of resigning and she continued to work for the senator until 2021.

Hamer, who was the first of Network Ten’s supporting witnesses to give evidence, said she told Lehrmann that pressuring Higgins to stay for another drink was wrong. Hamer said Lehrmann said “something along the lines of me always being a feminist and feeling like I have to go and defend women”.

The court heard Hamer was angry about the way Higgins was treated and turned to Lehrmann and said “you shut the fuck up” and then turned to another Liberal staffer they were drinking with, Jesse Wotton, and said the same.

Wotton told the court he does not recall Lehrmann grabbing Higgins’ phone but he confirmed the three of them had a heated argument.

Wotton said Hamer was earlier “excited” about the prospect of Higgins coming to work with her in Reynolds’ office, but when she believed Lehrmann had pressured to stay her mood changed.

“Then [Hamer] voiced her displeasure and unhappiness that Ms Higgins felt that she needed to stay for a drink in order to have a job in the minister’s office,” Wotton told the court.

Wotton said he was called into a meeting with Reynolds and reprimanded for his behaviour, and he went in to see her after Lehrmann.

“There were words to the effect saying, Mr Lehrmann and I were senior males in her office and as a result were in a position of power, and I should have understood the perception of what occurred the night before, and thought about it through Ms Hamer and Ms Higgins’ point of view,” Wotton said.

Lehrmann is suing Network Ten and Lisa Wilkinson for defamation over an interview with Higgins broadcast on The Project and online which did not name him but alleged she had been raped by a Liberal staffer in 2019.

Lehrmann has denied raping Higgins and pleaded not guilty to a charge of sexual intercourse without consent. His criminal trial was abandoned due to juror misconduct and a second trial did not proceed due to prosecutors’ fears for Higgins’ mental health.

Related: Brittany Higgins and Bruce Lehrmann were ‘touchy’ and ‘kissing’ in bar on night of alleged rape, defamation trial hears – as it happened

Another Liberal staffer Lauren Gain gave evidence about drinking with Higgins and Lehrmann on the night leading up to her alleged rape in Parliament House.

“And I remember Brittany falling over and having to be helped back up,” Gain said.

“I remember Brittany and Bruce sitting quite close together. I remember them being quite touchy with one another. I remember them kissing and I remember her taking selfies of the two of them.”

She told the court that the day after she left Higgins and Lehrmann at a nightclub, 88mph, she sent a message to a colleague saying Higgins and Lehrmann “hooked up” because she saw them kissing passionately in a booth and touching each other’s thighs.

Gain said Higgins was very drunk and she saw her fall over in the nightclub.

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