A senior ACT officer who oversaw the police investigation into an allegation Bruce Lehrmann raped a colleague in Parliament House has told an inquiry he did not believe there was sufficient evidence to take Lehrmann to trial, but charged him on the advice of the director of public prosecutions.
The AFP’s Det Supt Scott Moller had oversight of the ACT police’s investigation into Brittany Higgins’s allegation Lehrmann raped her in the Parliament House office of the then Coalition minister Linda Reynolds in 2019.
Appearing before an independent inquiry into the ACT criminal justice system’s handling of the Lehrmann case, Moller said police investigators did not believe the allegations against Lehrmann had reached the threshold for prosecution.
“I didn’t think there was enough evidence,” Moller said. But, based on the DPP’s advice after providing a brief of evidence, “I decided to go ahead [and charge Lehrmann]”.
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Moller said there was “a significant amount of pressure” on police to lay charges from “the public, the media, my own organisation”.
“There was a real desire to expedite this process and get Mr Lehrmann before a court.”
Moller said he was troubled that usual processes – such as an internal police “adjudication” of potential charges – were not followed.
“I was concerned about not following our procedures.”
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.
The inquiry, led by the former Queensland solicitor general Walter Sofronoff, is examining the actions of ACT police, prosecutors and a victim support service during the investigation and trial.
Investigators provided a brief of evidence to the DPP and to Lehrmann’s defence team. The brief contained notes from meetings Higgins had with counsellors, including at the Canberra Rape Crisis Centre. Lehrmann’s lawyers did not access the notes, but the DPP, Shane Drumgold, did.
Moller conceded it was a “mistake” to hand over Higgins’s counselling notes to prosecutors and to Lehrmann’s defence team.
“We shouldn’t have given them,” Moller said.
“That’s the bottom line, we shouldn’t have handed them over. That’s a mistake that we made.”
Moller said police were acting in good faith in disclosing the documents.
“From my perspective, full disclosure … for us it was about transparency and making sure we’re not holding anything back, trying to be completely open, honest and sharing everything we had.
“Police and myself were acting in good faith sharing the material that we had.”
Much of the independent inquiry has focused on tension between police and the DPP over the Lehrmann case. The inquiry has heard Drumgold believed police were reluctant to charge Lehrmann, and had engaged either in “unsophisticated corruption” or “atomic-level stupidity” in trying to stop the case proceeding. In correspondence, Drumgold said there was a “very clear campaign to pressure” him not to charge Lehrmann, and that police investigators were “clearly aligned with the successful defence of this matter” during the trial.
Drumgold later told the inquiry he no longer believed in a possible conspiracy and that he now thought a “skills deficit” on behalf of the officers explained police actions during the investigation.
From the police perspective, Moller said he believed police were being targeted by the DPP.
“I felt like Mr Drumgold was attempting to collect evidence against the police for use at a later time, to show criticism of the police. I had that feeling very early on.”