DPP ‘lost objectivity’ in Higgins case: top cop
A senior police officer has accused the ACT’s top prosecutor of losing objectivity and of being “dismissive” of investigators’ concerns there was not enough evidence to charge Bruce Lehrmann.
Detective Superintendent Scott Moller told an inquiry into how the criminal justice system handled Brittany Higgins’ allegation that he was under the impression the Director of Public Prosecutions, Shane Drumgold SC, would pursue the case “no matter what”.
“The team were of the view that Mr Drumgold … had a position he was going to prosecute this matter no matter what,” he said on Monday.
“They were always of the view, the briefings I had, was that Mr Drumgold was committed to prosecute (sic) this matter.”
Mr Lehrmann pleaded not guilty to one charge of sexually assaulting his former colleague Ms Higgins before the trial was aborted due to jury misconduct.
Mr Lehrmann has continually denied the allegation and the DPP declined to pursue a second trial due to concerns over Ms Higgins’ mental health and dropped the charge.
The inquiry heard the senior police officer had requested permission to obtain independent legal advice about whether Mr Lehrmann should be charged. His request was denied.
“I was worried Mr Lehrmann could potentially be placed before the court when we didn’t believe there was enough evidence,” he said of a meeting with the DPP in June 2021.
“I was trying to convey that, like the other investigators did to Mr Drumgold, who continually over many months dismissed our propositions about this matter.”
Despite this, once the DPP had provided his written advice to proceed with the case, Superintendent Moller said he was “absolutely committed” to the prosecution and was “satisfied”.
Mr Drumgold has previously denied the suggestion he lost objectivity.
The DPP told the inquiry his office effectively “closed ranks” to police because he was concerned about their conduct.
Superintendent Moller also detailed his frustration with the ACT Victims of Crime Commissioner’s involvement in the case, claiming she made it hard for investigators to do their job.
During the investigation, Heidi Yates acted as Ms Higgins’ support person and directed that any communication police may need to have with the former Liberal staffer go through her.
Giving evidence on Tuesday, Superintendent Moller called the arrangement “inappropriate”.
“No different to how I would think if my commissioner started investigating a sexual assault crime in the ACT. He can do it. But in my view it is inappropriate. That’s my view,” he said on Tuesday.
Superintendent Moller said investigators had complained her involvement made the “process more difficult” and they “couldn’t communicate freely”.
“They felt often that Miss Yates was speaking for Miss Higgins and not allowing Miss Higgins to speak,” he added.
In his statement to inquiry, Superintendent Moller said the VCC was “more interested in Ms Higgins pushing the ‘#metoo’ movement than being committed to the upcoming trial”.
The investigator was also grilled by counsel for the DPP, Mark Tedeschi KC, about whether he authorised a police interview with Ms Yates to take place, opening her up to being called as a witness in the trial.
Mr Tedeschi suggested Superintendent Moller did this in order to force the VCC from being able to act as Ms Higgins’ support person.
PRESSURE ON POLICE
Superintendent Moller was asked by counsel assisting Joshua Jones whether he was aware of other officers being placed under “political pressure” during the investigation at the time of charging.
He stressed that while there was pressure from the DPP, the media, internally and from Ms Higgins herself, it was not borne from the government.
It comes after Superintendent Moller told the inquiry on Monday the pressure led to police skipping steps in their process.
A main source of tension has been the disclosure of an evidence brief to defence, which included Ms Higgins counselling notes.
Mr Lehrmann’s lawyers did not access the notes but the inquiry heard Director of Public Prosecutions, Shane Drumgold SC, did.
An email tendered to the inquiry on Monday showed Mr Drumgold had written to police demanding a ‘please explain’ after the DPP was made aware of the disclosure.
Superintendent Moller said he had a feeling early on that “Mr Drumgold or the DPP was attempting to collect evidence against the police for use at a later time”.
He said the questions caused him and his team to second guess their actions.
TENSION BETWEEN POLICE AND DPP
The breakdown in the relationship between police and the DPP has been a major flashpoint in the inquiry.
Previously, the probe has heard evidence the DPP was frustrated with the “undercharging” of sexual assault matters in the ACT.
Mr Tedeschi said last week he wanted to “prove” police had an “attitude towards sex cases generally”.
“(The Lehrmann case) was a classic example of it,” he said.
“Had it not been for all the publicity, had it not been that the alleged offence occurred in Parliament House, this matter would have been dealt with like the other … matters that have been, in effect, just ignored by the police.”
On Tuesday, the inquiry heard a report suggesting issues within the team that investigates sexual assault cases in the ACT, released in December 2021, also damaged relations.
“Certainly the sexual assault team was taken aback by the report. They were hurt. I guess they were upset because it pointed to professionalism; I suppose they were upset about that,’’ Superintendent Moller said.
The inquiry continues.