Brittany Higgins was sent home early on Friday, as Justice Michael Lee ponders whether to allow Bruce Lehrmann’s barrister Steven Whybrow SC to question her about a damning speech she gave outside court after the criminal trial last year.
It was the end of a long week.
The first thing Justice Michael Lee did on Friday morning was read out a letter of complaint from a member of the public who said his coughing practices in court were ‘disgusting’.
Justice Lee laughed and said he hoped the cough was improving, before Lisa Wilkinson’s barrister Sue Chrysanthou SC suggested he clip hand sanitiser to his robes.
Ms Higgins was then called to the stand for the fourth time this week.
She was visibly emotional on Wednesday and Thursday, but her eyes appeared decidedly dry on Friday. She didn’t break down once.
Instead, she bristled at Mr Whybrow when he probed her about the white cocktail dress she wore on the night of the alleged rape, a photo of a bruise on her leg, and the members of Parliament she disclosed her rape to.
In response to ‘yes’ or ‘no’ questions, Ms Higgins started giving a series of long-winded answers.
At one stage, she delivered a short monologue to the court about her former bosses, Senator Linda Reynolds and Fiona Brown – telling the court she didn’t think they were ‘bad people’, she just didn’t feel they handed her rape allegation well.
‘That’s what I have to say,’ she added.
Justice Michael Lee had to remind Ms Higgins to stick to the question, multiple times.
‘Sorry,’ she would reply, before giving her one-word answer.
There were two occasions where someone in the public gallery sneezed.
‘Bless you,’ Ms Higgins said into her microphone. Twice.
She was ashen-faced while a portion of a five-hour meeting with David Sharaz, Lisa Wilkinson and Channel Ten producer Angus Llewellyn was played before the court.
In the first clip, Mr Sharaz could be heard telling Wilkinson he would like an almond latte.
The court was then informed that was the wrong clip, and the correct one would play shortly.
The excerpt was recorded in January 2021 – a few weeks before The Project episode aired – and appeared to show Ms Higgins and Mr Sharaz wargaming publicity for her allegations with Wilkinson and Mr Llewellyn.
Mr Sharaz asked Wilkinson if she knew any ‘friendly MPs’ who could lob questions at the then-Liberal government during question time.
‘Oh, certainly Albo,’ Ms Wilkinson said in response, adding: ‘He’s a bit of a dead duck at the moment,’ adding: ‘Tanya Plibersek, definitely.’
Mr Sharaz told the group ‘I have a friend in Labor, Katy Gallagher on the Labor side, who will probe [Ms Higgins’ rape allegations] and continue it going.’
‘So sitting week, the story comes out, they have to answer questions at Question Time, it’s a mess for [the Liberal government].
‘March, Senate estimates. Hopefully we can try and get the [CCTV] footage for Britt’s clarity, and then [PM Scott Morrison] is going to call an election whenever he calls it.
‘That’s why Britt’s chosen that timeline.’
In court on Friday, Mr Whybrow asked Ms Higgins if she could honestly say that one of her motivations for going public with her rape allegations was not to cause political damage to the then-Liberal government.
Ms Higgins replied: ‘It was not about the Liberal Party, it was about women in politics.’
Wilkinson, meanwhile, pursed her lips.
She was sporting her eighth pantsuit since the trial began last week. She previously opted for greens, pinks and blacks, but Friday’s colour was ‘turtle dove’ – a variety of beige.
By the time the recording was played for the court, she had acquired a headset to ensure she could hear the proceedings properly and sat stone-faced as she listened to her own voice reverberate through the courtroom.
Ms Higgins was also accused of fabricating a photo of a bruise, which she used to claim was caused by Mr Lehrmann’s knee pinning her leg open during the alleged rape in 2019.
She was forced to concede the version of the photo she sent to Channel Ten was a screenshot with no metadata.
Mr Whybrow suggested to Ms Higgins the screenshot of the photo was taken while she was on the plane at 8.45am on January 27, 2021 – before she went into a five-hour meeting with Lisa Wilkinson, Ten producer Angus Llewellyn, and David Sharaz.
‘Can you explain why a screenshot that morning was taken of the bruise photo?’ Mr Whybrow asked.
She replied: ‘I don’t know.’
He then asked why she sent Mr Llewellyn the screenshot rather than the original photo, to which Ms Higgins explained she didn’t realise she had sent a screenshot.
Mr Whybrow said: I suggest there’s no evidence this photo was in existence before January 27, 2021.’
Ms Higgins maintained she did take the photo in 2019 and rejected Mr Whybrow’s suggestion.
It was also revealed that Mr Sharaz sent a timeline of Ms Higgins’ allegations to ‘like, half the press gallery’ after February 15, 2021 – while she was passed out on Valium.
She then conceded various aspects of that timeline were wrong, and told the court she forgot to remove Mr Lehrmann’s name from that document before it was disseminated to more than 100 reporters in Canberra.
‘That was meant to be redacted,’ she told the court.
‘By who?’ Mr Whybrow asked.
By the end of the day, everyone knew she had selt selfies to her ex-boyfriend in the same dress she alleges she was raped in, and that they shared a few ‘sexts’ post-breakup.
She was probably ready to leave by the time the judge declared Friday’s hearing was finished.
By that stage, Justice Lee had barely coughed.