Watch live: Lisa Wilkinson’s texts revealed as Bruce Lehrmann’s defamation case continues

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Bruce Lehrmann’s defamation case against Network Ten and Lisa Wilkinson continues on Wednesday, after the Federal Court released documents revealing Wilkinson’s texts with her producer before The Project aired her interview with Brittany Higgins.

Angus Llewellyn, the producer of Ten’s flagship current affairs program, started giving evidence in Sydney on Tuesday about his involvement in researching the interview before it aired on February 15, 2021. Wilkinson is slated to give evidence when his cross-examination is completed.

The court released documents revealing text messages between Lisa Wilkinson (pictured) and her producer.Credit: Dion Georgopoulos

Lehrmann alleges Ten and Wilkinson defamed him by suggesting in the interview he was guilty of raping Higgins in 2019 in the office of their boss, Liberal senator and then defence industry minister Linda Reynolds. He has always maintained his innocence.

In an affidavit filed in court, released publicly on Tuesday, Llewellyn said he received a message from Wilkinson on January 19, 2021, which said: “I have an explosive political story for Sunday Project … we’re going huge with it. March release … I only want to work with you on it.”

She urged Llewellyn to “call me when you can”.

The Project producer Angus Llewellyn was cross-examined on Tuesday.Credit: Dion Georgopoulos

Llewellyn, who was then on leave, responded on January 20 that year: “Hi Lisa Sounds intriguing! … can jump on it from Friday if needed?”

Wilkinson replied: “It is an extraordinary coverup … The woman at the centre of it all is ready to talk. She is based in Canberra. We can fly her up. Would you be good for a meeting with her on Monday?”

Llewellyn, a former supervising producer of SBS’ Dateline program, was cross-examined on Tuesday by Lehrmann’s barrister, Matthew Richardson, SC, about a message Wilkinson sent him on January 31, 2021.

The text referred to a photo Higgins had given Ten, which the former Liberal staffer said was taken in 2019 and showed a bruise on her leg caused by the alleged assault.

Brittany Higgins and Bruce Lehrmann at court.Credit: Nikki Short

Wilkinson referred to a suggestion by Higgins that her phone had died at a later stage and she had lost data, and asked Llewellyn in the text: “How come she still has that bruise shot? I’m confused on this point.”

Llewellyn said in his affidavit that “I did not think it was unusual for Ms Higgins to have the photograph of the bruise even though she said her phone had been wiped and she had lost lots of material because she had provided me with other supporting screenshots which suggested that her phone had actually not been wiped or at least some of the content was still accessible”.

A photo tendered in court in Bruce Lehrmann’s defamation trial of what Brittany Higgins has described as a bruise on her leg.

Higgins has told the court that she believed at that time that the bruise was caused by the alleged assault, but had accepted since then that it may have been caused by tripping over hours earlier.

The court has heard that the version of the photo given to Ten was a screenshot. Higgins has told the court that she did not believe that she or Ten realised that the time, and she no longer had the original.

Richardson asked Llewellyn on Tuesday: “Did you ask to see the original?“

“I presumed that was the original,” Llewellyn said.

He said he did not ask to see the metadata, but Ten had Higgins sign a statutory declaration stating that the photo was taken in 2019 and she believed it was caused by the alleged assault.

“I don’t think it was unreasonable whatsoever,” Llewellyn replied when Richardson put to him that airing the photo on The Project was unreasonable.

Lehrmann not named

Lehrmann was not named in Ten’s interview and a preliminary issue in the case is whether he was identified via other means.

If the court finds he was identified, Ten and Wilkinson are seeking to rely on a range of defences including truth, which would require the court to be satisfied to the civil standard – on the balance of probabilities – that he raped Higgins. In a criminal trial, a prosecutor must prove an accused’s guilt beyond reasonable doubt.

Ten and Wilkinson called Higgins and several other witnesses, including her parents, to give evidence as part of their truth defence.

Qualified privilege defence

Ten is also seeking to rely on a defence of qualified privilege, which relates to publications of public interest and requires a media outlet to show it acted reasonably. The evidence of Llewellyn and Wilkinson is directly relevant to that defence.

Ten has pleaded two different types of qualified privilege, including a specific variant that invokes the implied freedom of political communication in the Commonwealth Constitution.

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