Higgins, Lehrmann ‘quite touchy’ before alleged rape

Miklos Bolza |

Hours before Brittany Higgins was allegedly raped by Bruce Lehrmann, the pair were seen kissing and touching each other in a Canberra nightclub, a judge has heard.

After going out for drinks at pub The Dock and 80’s themed club 88mph, the duo returned to Parliament House in the early hours of March 23, 2019, where the alleged sexual assault occurred.

Lauren Gain was a parliamentary colleague who was out with Ms Higgins, Lehrmann and Austin Wenke that night.

The public servant told the Federal Court on Wednesday that she saw Ms Higgins and Lehrmann sitting close together being intimate while sitting in a booth at 88mph.

“I remember them being quite touchy with one another … I remember them kissing,” she told Justice Michael Lee.

They both had their hands on each others’ thighs and kissed for a period of time, Ms Gain said.

Brittany Higgins leaves the court on Tuesday.
Brittany Higgins finished giving her evidence at the defamation trial on Tuesday. (Dean Lewins/AAP PHOTOS)

“I take it (that) it was a passionate kiss?” the judge asked.

“Yes,” Ms Gain replied.

From the witness box, Mr Wenke said he could not recall whether there had been any kiss between the two colleagues that night.

Lehrmann is suing Network Ten and journalist Lisa Wilkinson for defamation over a February 2021 report on The Project regarding Ms Higgins’ allegations.

She claims she was raped in the office of their then-boss, Senator Linda Reynolds, in the early hours of March 23, 2019 after a night out drinking in Canberra.

Lehrmann has always denied the allegations, saying that no sexual contact or any intimacy occurred between the pair at any time.

Weeks before the alleged rape, Bruce Lehrmann asked if a “good looking” Ms Higgins could be invited out to drinks, the court heard earlier.

Nicky Hamer, a former Liberal staffer who worked alongside Lehrmann and Ms Higgins, spoke about the conversation, which she said took place on March 2, 2019.

“Bruce made a comment about Brittany being good looking and asked me if I knew her,” Ms Hamer said.

“He asked me just to see if she was free to pop down to the pub.”

Nicky Hamer leaves court on Wednesday.
Nicky Hamer, who worked alongside Lehrmann and Ms Higgins, gave evidence on Wednesday. (Bianca De Marchi/AAP PHOTOS)

Ms Hamer already worked for Senator Reynolds when Ms Higgins joined the office after her former employer, defence industry minister Steven Ciobo, resigned.

The court heard Ms Higgins had gone to the Kingston Hotel to meet up with Ms Hamer, Lehrmann and another staffer, Jesse Wotton, on March 2 before she had been given a job with Senator Reynolds.

When Ms Higgins said she had to leave, Lehrmann took her phone for one or two minutes to prevent her from ordering an Uber and asked her to stay for one more drink, Ms Hamer said.

She told the court she became angry with Lehrmann over this after Ms Higgins left.

Lehrmann allegedly retorted that Ms Hamer was a “feminist” who always felt like she had to stick up for women.

Mr Wotton, who is now deputy state director of the WA Liberal Party, told the court Ms Hamer had “over-reacted” towards both him and Lehrmann during the argument.

Ms Hamer claimed they had pressured Ms Higgins into staying and the junior staffer would have thought she had lost her opportunity for a job in Senator Reynolds’ office because she opted to leave.

“I was very unhappy about that accusation being made,” Mr Wotton said.

Lisa Wilkinson (left) and her legal team.
Lehrmann is suing Network Ten and journalist Lisa Wilkinson (far left) for defamation. (Bianca De Marchi/AAP PHOTOS)

Lehrmann was charged in August 2021 over the alleged rape, but his criminal trial in the ACT Supreme Court was derailed by juror misconduct.

Prosecutors did not seek a second trial, citing concerns for Ms Higgins’ mental health.

Lehrmann is also before Queensland courts accused of raping another woman twice in Toowoomba in October 2021.

He has not yet entered a plea, but his lawyers have indicated he denies the charges.

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