The head of the inquiry into the ACT police investigation of rape allegations against Bruce Lehrmann condemned reporting by the Australian as pointless and a risk to “interfering with the course of [the] inquiry”.
In a significantly delayed opening to Monday’s hearings, former Queensland solicitor general Walter Sofronoff KC said the publication of a photo taken of the ACT director of public prosecutions, Shane Drumgold, as he stood in the driveway of his Canberra home appeared entirely unjustified.
Sofronoff said he had written to the editor of the newspaper for an explanation.
The picture was published on the front page of the Australian on 19 May with the headline: “Crown Lager or Drumgold Bitter. Prosecutor Calls Beer O’clock”.
“I’m stumped at trying to think of a proper purpose for doing this,” Sofronoff said. “Hiding to take a photo of a man who thinks he’s enjoying privacy and then publishing the photo with a putdown.”
Sofronoff said the role of the media was vital to the inquiry, but so was the cooperation of people called to give evidence.
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“My real worry is that the witnesses who’ve been willing to help me will think that this is part of the price [of cooperation] – being stalked to their home, photos taken unawares, of being made fun of in the national media. If that’s the personal cost, why would anybody willingly be a part of this?
“This kind of publication risks interfering with the course of my inquiry. It risks interfering with my ability to fulfil my statutory duty.”
Sofronoff said he conceded that the taking of the photograph of Drumgold– who is currently on leave – and its publication might possibly serve a valid journalistic purpose.
“With these thoughts in mind, I’ve written to the editor of the Australian today seeking her help to understand the purpose for which the photo was used. And I’ll consider my course when I get a response.”
The Australian has been approached for a response.
Lehrmann has consistently denied the allegation of rape and no findings have been made against him.
Lehrmann was tried by the ACT supreme court in October but a mistrial was declared due to juror misconduct.
Prosecutors later dropped the charges against him because of fears about the impact a second trial would have on Higgins’s mental health.
Drumgold is on four weeks’ voluntary leave as the inquiry continues. The ACT government executive has appointed Anthony Williamson, who was the deputy DPP, to act in the role of the territory’s top prosecutor until 13 June.