Lehrmann investigator claims police were under pressure to placate media

The lead detective in the Lehrmann case says he believed the prosecution would have failed on Brittany Higgins’ evidence alone as he asserted the investigation was rushed to placate the media.

ACT Policing Detective Superintendent Scott Moller told an inquiry into the handling of Bruce Lehrmann’s abandoned criminal trial that he was under immense pressure from the public and within his own organisation to bring the former Coalition staffer to court.

Detective Superintendent Scott Moller departs the ACT Civil and Administrative Tribunal in Canberra.

Alex Ellinghausen

He also accused the territory’s victims of crime commissioner, Heidi Yates, of using the investigation to pursue a #MeToo agenda, and said he believed ACT Director of Public Prosecutions Shane Drumgold SC had been collecting evidence of wrongdoing against investigators in the case.

Lehrmann pleaded not guilty to sexually assaulting Higgins in the parliamentary office of their then-boss, Senator Linda Reynolds, in March 2019. The trial was aborted in October due to juror misconduct and a retrial was scrapped due to Higgins’ mental health. Lehrmann has always denied the allegation.

Moller came under fire for a brief he compiled for his commander in which he described Higgins as “evasive, unco-operative and manipulative” but said little about what police described as Lehrmann’s implausible explanations surrounding the circumstances of Higgins’ allegation.

“In your view, quite apart from any difficulties that Mr Lehrmann might’ve faced, no prosecutor was going to get over these difficulties,” inquiry chair Walter Sofronoff put to Moller.

“If this part failed, it didn’t really matter about Mr Lehrmann?”

Moller responded: “Yes, that’s right.”

In a 50-page statement to the inquiry and verbal evidence at the ACT Civil and Administrative Tribunal, Moller said some of the usual procedures in the charging process had been skipped for expediency, Higgins’ repeated media appearances fuelled external and internal pressure on the investigation, and Drumgold had been determined to prosecute Lehrmann regardless of what he told police.

Moller alleged that while the investigation was still going, he bumped into Australian Federal Police commissioner Reece Kershaw while jogging around Canberra’s Lake Burley Griffin and the latter said, “just get it done” in relation to charging Lehrmann.

ACT Director of Public Prosecutions Shane Drumgold, SC, has been highly critical of investigators’ attitudes towards the prosecution.

Alex Ellinghausen

Moller said he swore the court summons for Lehrmann himself to save his officers from doing something they did not want to.

“There was a real desire to expedite this process and get Mr Lehrmann before the court … collectively, [from] the public, the media, my own organisation, there was a desire to get this progressed,” Moller told the inquiry.

Drumgold has been highly critical of investigators’ attitudes towards the prosecution and described the brief compiled by Moller as relying on biased and stereotypical opinions towards complainants in sexual assault matters.

The inquiry has previously heard that Higgins’ confidential counselling notes were mistakenly provided to the defence as part of the brief of evidence. On Monday, the inquiry was shown an email Drumgold wrote to police with questions about the circumstances in which the brief was passed on.

In his written statement to the inquiry, Moller said Higgins was more preoccupied with media interviews than assisting the police investigation, and alleged that when he told Yates during a meeting that Higgins had to stop speaking to the media, Yates replied, “She can’t Scott, she is the face of the movement now.”

“I remember being mad that the VCC [victims of crime commissioner] was using the investigation as a voice for reform before the trial had even been conducted,” Moller said in his statement.

“I felt at times the VCC was advocating for her own agenda and was more interested in Ms Higgins pushing the #MeToo movement rather than being committed to the upcoming trial.”

Moller also described “significant external and internal pressure to erode the threshold and the investigators’ independent and objective search for the truth” in relation to sexual assault investigations.

“It appears to me that this is in response to public discourse about the treatment of survivors in the criminal justice system,” he said.

He cited a stated aim of the ACT government’s Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Steering Committee – “to ensure victims survivors know that when they disclose sexual violence they will be believed” – as an example.

“This is fundamentally at odds with the investigative function of the police and the purpose of the criminal justice system,” he said.

The inquiry continues.

Support is available from the National Sexual Assault, Domestic Family Violence Counselling Service at 1800RESPECT (1800 737 732) or the Men’s Referral Service on 1300 766 491.

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