The senior detective who led the team investigating Brittany Higgins’ rape allegation against her former colleague has revealed to an inquiry into the abandoned case that he is a survivor of sexual assault.
In a disclosure before the high-profile inquiry into authorities’ handling of the aborted trial of former Coalition staffer Bruce Lehrmann, ACT Policing Detective Superintendent Scott Moller said his experience 45 years ago had been his “driving force” as a police officer.
“I am a survivor,” Moller said after being asked by his lawyer what motivated him as one of the territory’s senior police.
“So, 45 years ago I was a victim of sexual assault, and I lived with that for 45 years, and that has driven my desire to work in the police and to work with victims. That’s driven my desire and my want to make sure that sexual assault never happens to anyone else in the community.”
Lehrmann pleaded not guilty to raping Higgins, his former colleague, in the parliamentary office of their then-boss, Liberal senator Linda Reynolds, on March 23, 2019, and has always maintained his innocence. The trial was aborted on October 27 due to juror misconduct and there have been no findings against Lehrmann.
Moller also told the inquiry on Wednesday that he had no recent academic training on sexual assault matters, and at the time of the investigation, only four members of the broader sexual assault and child abuse team had recent training, adding most members of the team were inexperienced.
He also said he shouldn’t have liked a social media comment that was supportive of Lehrmann days after a retrial was scrapped, and believed Higgins wanted police to investigate her rape claim to give credibility to the story she had aired in the media.
Moller has faced scrutiny over the attitudes of ACT police regarding sexual assault matters, and criticism from the territory’s Director of Public Prosecutions Shane Drumgold for what the prosecutor described as biased, stereotypical views about how complainants in sexual assault matters should be raised.
Earlier in the inquiry, Drumgold agreed under questioning by the probe’s chair, Walter Sofronoff KC, that be believed “rape myths” – stereotypical and unfounded beliefs about the behaviour of survivors – were behind investigating officers’ “passionate” opposition to pursuing Lehrmann.
Moller – who earlier told the inquiry that while he was eventually convinced by Drumgold of the need to charge Lehrmann, his officers weren’t – told Sofronoff on Wednesday, “even though they had those views, they pushed forward against those beliefs”.
The detective said it was offensive to hear allegations about rape myths being directed at police “because I’ve lived with that, and it’s difficult”.
“To have that experience and to be continually moving forward, working with the community trying to resolve those issues, as dedicated as I am and the other police are in ACT Policing, it’s disappointing to hear that there’s an inference that we’re not working as hard as we can to solve those matters, to move forward with those matters to have them prosecuted.
“That’s been my driving force, there’s a lot of other ACT police who draw on other life experiences, but that’s been mine.”
In his third day in the witness box before the ACT government inquiry, Moller agreed under questioning that Higgins’ media strategy in early 2021 was hindering the police investigation of her allegation.
“Ms Higgins had already done media interviews and it appeared to me from what I was told that Ms Higgins wanted the matter reported and wanted it to be a live investigation, and my opinion was that she wanted it live to give credibility to the story that was being aired,” Moller said.
On December 2 last year, Drumgold announced a retrial against Lehrmann would be discontinued due to Higgins’ mental health. On December 6, Moller liked a comment on LinkedIn from a person who said Lehrmann was innocent until proven otherwise.
Moller disagreed with Tedeschi’s assertion it showed bias in favour of Lehrmann. “What I believe it shows is that I liked the comment, that I agreed with the comment,” he said.
The comment – left beneath a link to a December 6 article in The Australian titled read: “I was deeply shocked by some of the prosecutors [sic] reported words. This young man deserves the justice of our court and reporting system. He should not be negatively labelled for the rest of his life”.
Moller agreed he had liked the comment in his capacity as a senior ACT police officer. “I accept in hindsight I probably shouldn’t have liked the comment,” he told the inquiry.
He also significantly walked back his earlier criticism of Victims of Crime Commissioner Heidi Yates’ involvement in the investigation as a conduit between police and Higgins.
He had previously said her role added difficulty to the investigation, but under questioning from Yates’ barrister, Peggy Dwyer, Moller agreed Yates had provided integral support during the investigation and had even facilitated investigators’ second recorded interview with Higgins in late May 2021.
“We absolutely need those people who can advocate and remind us that it’s not all about a criminal prosecution, it’s about healing, about moving on, and as focused as I was on trying to move this to a criminal prosecution and trying to develop that evidence that we needed, it’s not always the most important thing.”
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