A member of the team involved in the investigation of former Coalition staff Bruce Lehrmann has told an inquiry into his abandoned rape trial that she was wrong about the threshold for laying charges against a suspect.
The inquiry into authorities’ handling of the case has heard nearly the entire investigative team believed there was not enough evidence to charge Lehrmann with raping his former colleague Brittany Higgins, contributing to a rift between prosecutors and police.
Senior Constable Emma Frizzell – one of the junior officers on the team – told a public hearing on Thursday that only since the inquiry began had she realised she was applying too high a threshold to charging.
“After watching these proceedings for the last week and a half, I would concede I don’t have it right,” Frizzell said.
In her written statement to the inquiry, the officer said she believed a person could only be charged with an offence if the evidence supported a reasonable prospect of conviction.
She said advice from the ACT prosecutors’ office that only a reasonable suspicion of an offence having been committed was required to lay a charge had “complicated” things in recent times.
Asked during the hearing whether police were still confused about the relevant test to charge a suspect, Frizzell replied: “Yes, I would say that there is.”
Lehrmann pleaded not guilty to raping Higgins 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.
After ACT Director of Public Prosecutions Shane Drumgold, SC, announced he was discontinuing the case against Lehrmann on December 2, the ACT government launched a review into the handling of the case, which was partly spurred by a public breakdown in the relationship between the police and the DPP.
Drumgold has accused the police of using the wrong test to charge people with sexual assault, of undercharging across sexual assault matters in the ACT, and of holding outdated views regarding the behaviour of victims making allegations of sexual assault.
He has told the inquiry the police involved in the investigation held “passionate” views against the ongoing prosecution.
ACT Policing Detective Superintendent Scott Moller, who led the team investigating Lehrmann, told the inquiry on Wednesday he was a survivor of sexual assault, an experience that had driven his attitude to policing.
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,” he said.
The inquiry continues.
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