Cop’s furious Lehrmann lawyer email
A phone call between a senior police officer and Bruce Lehrmann’s defence barrister was the catalyst for a furious email fired off by a Commander mid-trial, an inquiry has heard.
AFP acting assistant commissioner and former ACT Policing Commander Joanne Cameron appeared before an inquiry into the criminal justice system’s handling of Brittany Higgins’ rape allegation on Thursday.
The inquiry heard that during the trial defence lawyer Steven Whybrow had phoned Detective Superintendent Scott Moller about the case.
Superintendent Moller had called the Commander shortly after, who told him Mr Whybrow’s approach was “not appropriate”.
“At very least from perceptions,” she wrote in her diary note of the call with Superintendent Moller.
Commander Cameron gave evidence that she phoned the Chief Police Officer, Neil Gaughan and the Director of Public Prosecutions, Shane Drumgold SC, to inform him of Mr Whybrow’s approach.
That evening, the Commander fired off an email to Mr Drumgold, about approaches from defence.
She wrote they were “at the very least inappropriate” and “even the sheer fact of the perception generated by the fact that Defence counsel and police communicating, is not acceptable”.
The Commander told the inquiry she was concerned about the ongoing “perception that police were not conducting themselves in a fair and transparent and professional manner.”
The next morning, she sent an email to Superintendent Moller and another colleague to direct the defence back to the DPP.
“The perception that this creates is probably the most concerning factor here, given the history and sensitivity of this case. But really stands true on any matter at court,” she wrote.
Under questioning by counsel assisting Eleanor Lynch, Commander Cameron conceded the email she wrote “in frustration” could be read as a direction to not speak to defence and as such, she should have used “softer” language.
“I held the concern that at the very least whenever these sorts of interactions were occurring, if they became known to others, there would be judgments made … be it legitimate or otherwise,” she said.
“It was this sort of general tone that was building over the course of months in the lead up to the trial.”
POLICE CONFUSED ABOUT LEGAL TEST.
A member of the team that investigated Ms Higgins’ allegation has conceded there remains confusion among police about the legal test require to charge a suspect.
Senior Constable Emma Frizzell appeared before the inquiry on Thursday.
It has previously heard the investigative team did not believe there was enough evidence to charge Mr Lehrmann.
However, Constable Frizzell admitted she learned by watching the inquiry she was applying too high a threshold.
“After watching these proceedings for the last week and a half, I would concede I don’t have it right,” she said.
In a written statement to the inquiry, the junior police officer her understanding of the test was having a reasonable belief the evidence supported the prospects of a conviction.
She told the inquiry that police still had a misunderstanding about the legal test to this day.
Mr Drumgold has previously told the inquiry officers were confused about the test to charge people with sexual assault.
He has also accused officers within ACT Policing of having a “skills deficit”, undercharging sexual assault matters and holding outdated views.
On Wednesday, Superintendent Moller said he “absolutely” rejected claims of undercharging.
“The team that work (sic) on sex assault cases are a dedicated, professional group of investigators,” he said.
“From my perspective, the data is not accurate.”
He also told the inquiry the sexual assault and child abuse team (SACAT) was full of “very young, inexperienced officers”.
COP DENIES SHE WAS RESENTFUL OF HIGGINS’ SUPPORT PERSON
Constable Frizzell also walked back her criticism of the Victims of Crime Commissioner Heidi Yates.
She is the second police officer, after Superintendent Moller, to concede they did not have the full understanding of her role and her actions in the investigation before pointing the finger.
Ms Yates acted as an intermediary between police and Ms Higgins during the investigation and was a prominent fixture at her side during the trial.
Under questioning by the VCC’s lawyer Kristen Edwards, Constable Frizzell said know understands her presence facilitated communication with Ms Higgins.
The officer added that confusion over Ms Yates title as “commissioner” was daunting to some police given their agency’s organisational hierarchy.
In her statement to the inquiry, she detailed her frustration that Ms Yates had been drafted in to assist.
“This was not, and is not, common practice and in my opinion, assisted in the breakdown of the relationship between Ms Higgins and the police,” Constable Frizzell wrote.
Mark Tedeschi KC, lawyer for the Director of Public Prosecutions Shane Drumgold SC, cross-examined the constable about if it led to resentment from police.
“Was there resentment by the police that she had removed this ability to deal with her directly?” he asked.
“No, absolutely not,” Constable Frizzell said.
However, she expressed frustration that Ms Yates’ involvement meant there was effectively “no relationship”.
“It allowed no communication, no contact. You can’t build rapport or build a relationship with someone you can’t speak to.”
On Wednesday, Constable Frizzell’s superior, Detective Superintendent Scott Moller backed down claims the VCC had made it harder for police to do their jobs.
Instead, he conceded that Ms Yates involvement had made it easier to facilitate communication with Ms Higgins.
Mr Lehrmann pleaded not guilty to one charge of sexually assaulting his former colleague at Parliament House in 2019, before the trial was aborted due to jury misconduct.
Mr Lehrmann has continually denied the allegation and the Director of Public Prosecutions declined to pursue a second trial due to concerns over Ms Higgins’ mental health and dropped the charge.
The inquiry continues.