Network Ten 'utterly destroyed' Lehrmann's reputation

Bruce Lehrmann's mental health was affected and he was socially isolated because of a report by The Project that destroyed his reputation in detailing Parliament House rape allegations, a court has heard.

As a defamation hearing by the former Liberal staffer began in the Federal Court on Wednesday, Lehrmann gave evidence of the negative impacts of being publicly outed through "disgusting" social media posts following Network Ten's broadcast.

"It sent me into a deep spiral," he told the court.

Lisa Wilkinson during a break at the Federal Court
Lehrmann's case has been brought against his "most prominent accusers", Ten and Lisa Wilkinson.

"Coupled with mainstream media, what was happening on social media was attributed to ... quite significant mental health struggles."

Earlier in the day, his barristers said the case had been brought against his "most prominent accusers", Network Ten and journalist Lisa Wilkinson.

"Our client comes here seeking vindication for defamation that has utterly destroyed him," Matthew Richardson SC said.

"He comes here for justice."

Ms Higgins claims Lehrmann sexually assaulted her in the Parliament House office of their then-boss, former defence industry minister Linda Reynolds, in March 2019, an allegation he denies.

Mr Richardson told the court that while Lehrmann was not named in Ten's broadcast, details such as his position, where he was on the night of the alleged rape and where he subsequently worked allowed others to identify him.

"The identity of the person referred to must have been perfectly obvious to anyone who worked in that office or had regular dealings with him at the time," he said.

Justice Michael Lee earlier heard Lehrmann had settled his defamation case with the ABC over the live broadcast of a joint speech by Ms Higgins and former Australian of the Year Grace Tame at the National Press Club in February 2022.

Matthew Richardson, barrister for Bruce Lehrmann
Matthew Richardson accused Ten of canonising Ms Higgins on The Project.

Mr Richardson accused Ten of canonising Ms Higgins on The Project report without applying a "scintilla of doubt" to her claims.

"The message is plain - what she said, happened," he said.

The report was carefully edited to portray the ex-staffer as "the most odious of predators" and was accompanied by sinister sound effects as in a horror movie, Mr Richardson said.

Lehrmann had been "publicly maligned" and had lost everything, justifying a substantial award of damages, the packed courtroom heard.

The law student told the court he had became "severely isolated" with friends and colleagues unfriending him on social media or kicking him out of group chats in the days after the publication.

"I've worked out who my real friends are, that's for sure," he said.

The broadcast blurred the lines between allegations and guilt, while there were real questions about Ms Higgins' credibility and reliability as a witness, Mr Richardson said.

Under examination by his barrister Steven Whybrow SC, Lehrmann denied he had bought drinks for Ms Higgins while out before the alleged rape.

Bruce Lehrmann arrives at the Federal Court of Australia
Lehrmann said he had "worked out who my real friends are, that's for sure".

He said he had only spent $80 over the course of the night, including dinner, and had minimal contact with Ms Higgins during the evening.

Ten and Wilkinson have defended the defamation claims in a number of ways, including qualified privilege and justification.

Lehrmann will continue his evidence on Thursday.

The criminal trial in the ACT Supreme Court over Ms Higgins' rape allegations was derailed by juror misconduct and prosecutors did not seek a second trial because of concerns over her mental health.

A landmark report into the ACT legal system and the Higgins case was released in August, making damning findings against now ex-director of public prosecutions Shane Drumgold over his conduct during the case.

Mr Drumgold has filed his own legal challenge to overturn these findings.

Lehrmann has separately been accused of raping another woman twice in Toowoomba in October 2021.

That criminal case is still in the committal stage and he is yet to enter a plea, but his lawyers have indicated he denies the charges.

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