Watch live: Lehrmann grilling continues after court hears of drug use, lie to former boss

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Former federal Liberal political staffer Bruce Lehrmann faces further cross-examination on Tuesday in his high-stakes defamation case after the court heard he texted friends requesting cocaine after his former colleague Brittany Higgins accused a then-unnamed man of rape in a TV interview.

Lehrmann was asked on Monday in his Federal Court defamation case against Network Ten and Lisa Wilkinson about his texts to friends saying “need bags”, “you got any gear” and “let’s get lit” after Ten aired Wilkinson’s interview with Higgins on The Project on February 15, 2021.

Former federal Liberal staffer Bruce Lehrmann leaves the Federal Court in Sydney on Monday.Credit: Wolter Peeters

He told the Federal Court in Sydney on Monday he “spiralled pretty quickly” and was in a “bad place” when he asked his friends to bring cocaine.

Asked by Ten’s barrister, Dr Matt Collins, KC, if a text message in which he said “happy days” was a reference to cocaine being available, Lehrmann said: “I don’t know if it was or not. Probably.”

Lie to Reynolds

Earlier on Monday, Lehrmann admitted he lied in a letter to his former boss, the then Defence Industry Minister Linda Reynolds, in a letter on April 5, 2019, when he said he had “retreated to Queensland to see my mother”. He admitted in court that he was not in Queensland on April 4 or 5.

Reynolds terminated Lehrmann’s employment on April 5 for entering his Parliament House office in the early hours of Saturday, March 23, 2019, after a Friday night out drinking with friends. Higgins, who joined him in an Uber to Parliament House, has alleged Lehrmann raped her on the couch in Reynolds’ office that night, a claim he denies.

After-hours office visit lies

Lehrmann has also admitted he lied to Reynolds’ then chief of staff, Fiona Brown, when he told her on March 26 that he entered the office after hours to have a drink, and also lied to security guards at Parliament House when he told them on March 23 that he needed to enter the building because he had been “requested to pick up some documents”.

He has told the court the accurate account was that he went back to parliament to pick up his keys and to work on some question time briefs, and that he did not see Higgins again once he went to his desk.

‘Pash’ denied

Under cross-examination on Friday, Lehrmann denied he “pashed” Higgins while sitting in a booth that night at Canberra bar 88mph.

“You never pashed her at any time?” Collins asked.

“No,” Lehrmann replied.

The court heard Lehrmann suggested on Seven’s Spotlight program that a staffer present on the night had made up a claim he kissed Higgins.

“Do you want to withdraw that accusation?” Collins asked.

“No, I stand by that,” Lehrmann said. The kiss claim was raised in Lehrmann’s ACT criminal trial for sexual assault but ultimately not pursued.

The trial was aborted in October last year due to juror misconduct and the charge was later dropped altogether amid concerns about Higgins’ mental health.

Truth defence

Lehrmann alleges the Ten interview, which did not name him, defamed him by alleging he raped Higgins in Reynolds’ office.

If the court finds Lehrmann was identified by the broadcast, Ten and Wilkinson admit the interview conveyed the central claim of rape and are seeking to rely in part on a truth defence. Higgins is expected to give evidence later this week.

Under the truth defence, Ten must prove on the balance of probabilities that Lehrmann raped Higgins.

While this is less onerous than the criminal standard of proof beyond reasonable doubt, the so-called Briginshaw principle applies in civil cases involving serious allegations and requires courts to proceed cautiously in making grave findings.

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