Brittany Higgins is in HOSPITAL as top prosecutor says a retrial would put her life is ‘at risk’ as he slams attacks on alleged rape victim and confirms Australia’s most closely watched trial will be abandoned
- Former Liberal staffer Bruce Lehrmann has had his rape charge dropped
- He was accused of raping Brittany Higgins at Parliament House in March 2019
- The ACT Director of Public Prosecutions has decided to drop controversial case
- Experts feared the trauma of a second trial would risk Ms Higgins’ mental health
- First trial was aborted after a member of the jury brought prohibited material
Brittany Higgins is in hospital amid fears for her life as the case against the Liberal Party staffer accused of raping her was dropped on Friday.
Ms Higgins, 28, claims her ex-colleague Bruce Lehrmann sexually assaulted her in defence minister Linda Reynolds’ office at Parliament House after a boozy night out in Canberra in March, 2019.
But on Friday the Director of Public Prosecutions dropped the case and abandoned a retrial next year after doctors warned it pose an ‘significant and unacceptable risk’ to Ms Higgins mental health.
Mr Lehrmann, 27, has always strenuously denied the allegation and pleaded not guilty in his first trial which sensationally collapsed in October.
On Friday, ACT DPP Shane Drumgold abandoned the case, saying: ‘I’ve made the difficult decision that it is no longer in the public interest to pursue a prosecution, at the risk of the complainant’s life.’
But he added: ‘When I first examined the brief of evidence, I found a clear view that there was a reasonable prospect of conviction.
‘And this is a view that I still hold today.’
A member of the jury brought prohibited reading material – an academic study about false rape allegations – into the courtroom despite being warned several times by the judge.
Brittany Higgins claims her ex-colleague Mr Lehrmann (pictured) raped her at Parliament House after a night out in Canberra on March 23, 2019 – he has denied the allegations
Independent medical experts fear subjecting Brittany Higgins (pictured) to further trauma associated with another trial would be an ‘unacceptable risk’ to her health
A second trial had been scheduled for February next year, but ACT Director of Public Prosecutions Shane Drumgold abandoned the case on Friday after reviewing a medical assessment of Ms Higgins.
Independent medical experts fear that subjecting Ms Higgins to further trauma associated with another trial would be an ‘unacceptable risk’ to her health.
Mr Drumgold confirmed at 10am on Friday that pursuing Mr Lehrmann’s prosecution is no longer in the public interest.
Brittany Higgins’ credibility and truthfulness were continually questioned during Steven Whybrow’s (pictured) closing arguments
Bruce Lehrmann (centre) pleaded not guilty to a single charge of engaging in sexual intercourse without consent after being charged in August 2021
During the first trial Ms Higgins was reduced to tears on the stand during cross-examination.
She was grilled over the night of the alleged incident and challenged about questions surrounding her lucrative book deal, the dress she wore on the evening and whether she attended a doctor’s appointment.
Ms Higgins revealed she had secured a $325,000 book deal arranged for her by TV personality Lisa Wilkinson’s husband, Peter FitzSimons, in March, 2021, which would shed light on her experience.
Ms Higgins agreed with Mr Whybrow that she started outlining the chapters for the book before she made a formal statement to police.
She later admitted to the jury that she was ‘clearly wrong’ when saying she kept the dress she was allegedly raped in stashed under her bed for six months – ‘untouched and uncleaned’.
Ms Higgins was confronted with a photo showing her wearing the white cocktail number to a birthday party, some two months after the alleged incident.
During the first trial Brittany Higgins (pictured) was reduced to tears on the stand cross-examination
A retrial was to begin in February but ACT Director of Public Prosecutions Shane Drumgold (pictured) is set to axe the case after he reviewed a medical assessment of Ms Higgins
She also blew up in court when Mr Whybrow put to her that she had made up doctor’s appointments to ‘bolster’ her story.
Ms Higgins responded, loudly: ‘What you’re saying is deeply insulting.
‘You are so incorrect.
‘I don’t know if you’ve ever been through a trauma before… it’s confronting, it is a very hard thing to do. I was bed bound, I was doing my best. I completely reject everything you’re saying.’
The trial was originally expected to stretch between four and six weeks, however, after a long list of witnesses were culled from giving evidence, proceedings were significantly cut down to 12 days.
Then following five days of deliberations, the bombshell revelation came the trial would be aborted due to juror ‘misconduct’.
Inside the sensational collapse of Australia’s most explosive rape trial: CHARLOTTE KARP’s dramatic behind the scenes account from Court 3 – with the first sign of trouble via an 8.23am email
By Charlotte Karp in Canberra for Daily Mail Australia
The first, ominous sign that something wasn’t right in the trial of Brittany Higgins’ accused rapist dropped into reporters’ inboxes at 8.23am on Thursday.
‘Court will reconvene at 9.45am today,’ the email sent on behalf of Chief Justice Lucy McCallum read.
At no point during the trial had the court resumed earlier than 10am. Something was up.
Had the trial been misreported? Had the Crown’s case against Bruce Lehrmann – who Ms Higgins alleged raped her in Parliament House on March 23, 2019 – somehow been jeopardised?
Mr Lehrmann had pleaded not guilty to sexual intercourse without consent, and vehemently denied having any sexual interaction with the former Liberal staffer during 12 explosive days of evidence.
Just two weeks earlier, Justice McCallum warned the media that anyone who defied non-publication orders and jeopardised the trial would find their name enshrined in the first paragraph of her closing remarks.
Needless to say, the mood was tense when she entered the court just after 9.45am on Thursday morning and did not call the eight women and four men of the jury into the room.
Pictured: Former Liberal Party staffer Brittany Higgins making a statement after the trial was aborted
Pictured: Former Liberal Party staffer Bruce Lehrmann leaving the ACT Supreme Court in Canberra
‘I have received information there has been potential misconduct with a member of the jury,’ she told the court.
Before anyone had time to process what ‘misconduct’ might entail, Justice McCallum asked all reporters and members of the public to leave the room while she questioned the juror.
When the court was re-opened, she addressed the jury: ‘It has come to my attention that one of you has undertaken research in relation to issued in the case and that material has enter the jury room which ought not to have.’
The mood was tense when Justice Lucy McCallum (pictured, during a previous case) entered the court just after 9.45am on Thursday
‘I have heard an explanation and it may be that no harm has been done but that is not a risk I can take.
‘I have discharged that juror and I have to discharge you all.’
She thanked them sincerely for their hard work, and urged them not to consider their time as jurors as a ‘waste of time’.
It was only on Tuesday, the fifth day of deliberations, that jurors sent the chief justice a note to say they couldn’t unanimously agree on a verdict.
However, she gave them what’s known as the ‘Black Direction’. In other words, she told them to go back into the jury room and try again. They spent the whole of Wednesday deliberating.
The prospect of either a verdict or a hung jury was looming and many believed this week would be the last in the trial. No one could have predicted the trial would end like this – torpedoed by a rogue juror.
Pictured: Brittany Higgins leaving the ACT Supreme Court in Canberra after the trial was aborted
During an interview aired to the court, Mr Lehrmann (pictured) told police how he seriously contemplated suicide when he found out he was accused of rape
Inside the courtroom on Thursday, the atmosphere was strained. Words like dumbfounded, shocked and saddened spring to mind.
When the jury was discharged, some members of the public gallery had private moments of distress, before collecting themselves and re-focusing on Justice McCallum’s remarks.
The courtroom action of the past 12 days – as Ms Higgins, Lehrmann and other witnesses took the stand – had been, at times, confronting and eye-opening.
There had been tears, blow ups, and deeply personal moments divulged.
During an interview aired to the court, Lehrmann told police how he seriously contemplated suicide when he found out he was accused of rape.
Multiple times he would claim he did not sexually assault Ms Higgins, and that the allegations against him had changed his life.
Mr Lehrmann was told not to contact Ms Higgins, her boyfriend David Sharaz (pictured together), or her parents
Prosecutor Skye Jerome (pictured, left) reminded the court that Mr Lehrmann was still charged with sexual assault when she requested a series of bail restrictions
With the trial aborted, all that evidence – all those tears and turmoil – will have to be heard again at another trial.
Once the jury left the room, Justice McCallum explained that three of the court’s sheriff officers were tidying the jury room on Wednesday afternoon when one accidentally bumped one of the juror’s documents folders onto the floor.
The officer picked it up and saw the title page of an academic research paper about the prevalence of false sexual assault reports.
The accidental find presented a large issue because jurors were instructed not to look at any evidence that was not given in court, in the presence of the chief justice.
‘The juror gave an explanation suggesting the document had not been used or relied upon by any juror,’ the chief justice said.
‘Under the circumstances, it is appropriate to regard that evidence with some scepticism.’
Defence lawyer Steven Whybrow (pictured, right) made a statement on Lehrmann’s behalf on Thursday
‘I never fully understood the criminal justice system but I do now,’ Ms Higgins (pictured, outside court) said in a statement
Justice McCallum said she gave the jury ‘at least 17 warnings’ during the course of the trial not to find their own evidence.
She continually instructed them to abstain from social media, stop reading the news, and shut down any conversations about the trial with anyone who was not on the jury.
While Mr Lehrmann remained largely expressionless throughout Justice McCallum’s remarks on Thursday morning, members of the prosecution and the defence appeared downtrodden.
Prosecutor Skye Jerome, perhaps unintentionally, reminded everyone that Mr Lehrmann was still charged with sexual intercourse without consent when she requested a series of bail restrictions.
He was told not to contact Ms Higgins, her boyfriend David Sharaz, or her parents, and was allowed to keep his passport but must tell police if he intends to go overseas before February 20 next year, when the new trial date is scheduled for.
Ms Higgins, MrLehrmann (pictured) and a range of other witnesses took the stand during the trial
At about 10.25am, Justice McCallum left the court and the trial that captured the nation’s attention was over.
Ms Higgins was not in the courtroom at the time.
Mr Lehrmann was the first to face the barrage of cameras, microphones and reporters waiting outside the court at 11am.
His expression was unchanged, and he did not speak.
Instead, defence lawyer Steven Whybrow made a statement on his behalf: ‘We’re disappointed by what happened but it would be inappropriate and irresponsible to say anything at this stage.’
Ms Higgins faced the same media circus 10 minutes later.
Unlike Mr Lehrmann, she had tears in her eyes and her voice trembled as she delivered a pre-prepared speech – launching into a scathing speech on live TV.
‘I never fully understood the criminal justice system but I do now. I was required to tell the truth under oath for over a week in the witness stand, I was cross-examined at length,’ she said.
‘My life has been publicly scrutinised, open for the world to see.’
Through tears, Ms Higgins (pictured on Thursday) repeatedly told the court that Mr Whybrow’s statements were incorrect
The case was colloquially dubbed ‘The Higgins Trial’, but Ms Higgins (pictured on Thursday) was never on trial
Just hours after her impassioned speech was broadcast all over Australia, Mr Lehrmann’s defence lawyer announced police had been contacted on the basis that what she said could impact his right to a fair trial.
He would not speculate as to whether Ms Higgins could face charges for contempt of court.
The case was colloquially dubbed ‘The Higgins Trial’, but Ms Higgins was never on trial. Her function was to give evidence and help the public prosecutor in their bid to prove Mr Lehrmann’s guilt.
Her credibility and truthfulness were continually questioned during Mr Whybrow’s closing arguments in court last week.
He made a veiled statement about ‘con-artists’, before he suggested Ms Higgins had told her ‘fabricated’ story so many times she believed it to be true.
Through her tears, Ms Higgins repeatedly told the court that Mr Whybrow’s statements were incorrect.