'Women's intuition': Lehrmann gave former staffer 'bad vibes'

Tim Piccione
Updated December 7 2023 - 4:13pm, first published 1:11pm

A former federal government staffer has described having a bad feeling about then-colleague Bruce Lehrmann, whom she did not like spending time with.

"When I started at that office, I had bad vibes on Bruce ... he's not the sort of person I would have socialised with," Major Nikita Irvine told the Federal Court on Thursday.

Barrister Matthew Collins KC asked her to explain.

Watch: Brittany Higgins, and then Bruce Lehrmann's lawyer Steven Whybrow make comments after the Parliament rape jury was discharged and a mistrial declared.

"It's women's intuition, Dr Collins. I'm sorry, I just didn't really want to spend time with him," she responded

Major Irvine, a former aide-de-camp for Senator Linda Reynolds, offered up her view of Mr Lehrmann as he sat on the opposite side of the room.

She gave evidence as part of ongoing defamation proceedings he has brought against journalist Lisa Wilkinson and Network Ten.

Former Liberal staffer colleagues Bruce Lehrmann, Major Nikita Irvine, centre, and Brittany Higgins. Pictures by Karleen Minney, AAP
Former Liberal staffer colleagues Bruce Lehrmann, Major Nikita Irvine, centre, and Brittany Higgins. Pictures by Karleen Minney, AAP

Mr Lehrmann is suing the parties over a 2021 interview with Brittany Higgins which did not name him but aired her allegation of being raped inside Parliament House two years earlier.

He claims the broadcast identified him as the alleged perpetrator, damaging his reputation and publicly maligning him as "probably one of the more revolting predators of the recent history of this country".

The trial, expected to last a month, has already seen heated and conflicting multi-day testimonies from Ms Higgins and Mr Lehrmann.

Lehrmann not 'hard to get rid of'

Ten is making its way through a list of 20 witnesses in an attempt to prove the rape allegation is substantially true and reporting it was in the public interest.

Major Irvine was one of many staffers present at The Dock on March 22, 2019, hours before Ms Higgins claims she was raped inside a ministerial office.

CCTV of Bruce Lehrmann and Brittany Higgins drinking at The Dock, hours before the alleged incident. Picture supplied
CCTV of Bruce Lehrmann and Brittany Higgins drinking at The Dock, hours before the alleged incident. Picture supplied

While Ms Higgins and Mr Lehrmann continued their night by going to Civic nightclub 88mph with two others, Major Irvine decided to instead go home.

"I didn't want to go to clubs with colleagues I wasn't friends with," Major Irvine said.

The court previously heard she received a message the following morning from fellow staffer and friend Lauren Gain, who had attended 88mph, that said: "Brittany Hooked up with Bruce."

But Major Irvine wouldn't find out about the rape allegation until a few days later at work, where she was told about a "serious" incident that "involved Bruce".

She said she most likely figured out Ms Higgins was involved in the incident because her colleague "was very upset that day" and she "put two and two together".

Major Nikita Irvine. Picture AAP
Major Nikita Irvine. Picture AAP

"Or maybe you're just saying things because you believe she was this victim of a rape and you're prepared to say evidence in support of that," Mr Whybrow said.

Major Irvine responded: "Are you accusing me of lying under oath?"

After Ms Higgins disclosed the alleged assault, Major Irvine told chief of staff Fiona Brown she knew what had allegedly occurred.

The court heard Ms Brown said: "[Mr Lehrmann] wasn't hard to get rid of because of a security incident."

However, Major Irvine said she was left with the impression her chief of staff was not "entirely sure it was an assault".

Civic nightclub 88mph. Picture by Sitthixay Ditthavong
Civic nightclub 88mph. Picture by Sitthixay Ditthavong

Ms Higgins has given evidence she had disclosed her allegation to Ms Brown by this time.

Upon a similar conversation between Major Irvine and Senator Reynolds, the court heard the-then defence industry minister said: "Yes, this makes me feel sick. Nothing like this has ever happened to me before."

'Completely naked'

As she had done during an ACT criminal trial and on an ABC Four Corners program, Nikola Anderson told the court she found Ms Higgins "completely naked" on Senator Reynold's couch early March 23, 2019.

The testimony is no revelation but affirms the key witness' belief she had announced herself loudly as she entered the ministerial suit and found Ms Higgins, who she deemed intoxicated.

Brittany Higgins addresses media outside court in October 2022, following a mistrial. Picture by Karleen Minney
Brittany Higgins addresses media outside court in October 2022, following a mistrial. Picture by Karleen Minney

Ms Anderson said Ms Higgins rolled over into the "foetal position" away from her and that she left the woman there.

Also on duty that evening was retired security guard Mark Fairweather, who gave evidence he had watched CCTV of Ms Higgins and Mr Lehrmann arriving at Parliament House "many times" since The Project aired.

Mr Fairweather, who in 25 years of security experience also spent time as a bouncer, said he assessed the young staffers for intoxication levels as they entered the government building at an unusual hour.

"If I thought they had been intoxicated, I would have refused them entry," he said on Thursday.

MORE TRIAL COVERAGE:

"I can refuse if someone is going in there drunk because I'm worried about duty of care, number one, and vomiting or smashing up the suite."

The former security guard said he assessed Ms Higgins and Mr Lehrmann as being "very moderate" in their drunkenness.

Ms Higgins has previously testified she was "completely obliterated" and "messy" to the point of embarrassment and falling over on the night, while Mr Lehrmann has repeatedly said he did not notice this.

'Appeared very broken'

Thursday's final witness was Ben Dillaway, the first friend Ms Higgins disclosed her allegation to, who has also previously given his account of exchanges surrounding the alleged incident.

He said Ms Higgins initially downplayed the evening by telling him: "We brought the party back to Parliament House."

On a phone call, he claimed Ms Higgins, a former casual romantic partner, "was acting cagey, like she didn't want to tell me what had happened".

Ms Higgins eventually disclosed her allegation to Mr Dillaway and the pair met up in Canberra days later.

Journalist Lisa Wilkinson, who is being sued over a 2021 The Project interview. Picture by Sylvia Liber
Journalist Lisa Wilkinson, who is being sued over a 2021 The Project interview. Picture by Sylvia Liber

"She was very upset and appeared very broken," he said.

Mr Dillaway recalled he encouraged his friend to go to the police but she feared for her job and the possibility of becoming "known as the girl who was raped in parliament".

"She wanted to put her head down and get on with her life," he said.

Mr Lehrmann has always denied raping Ms Higgins in 2019 and no findings have been made against him.

His criminal trial was aborted last year due to juror misconduct and the charge levelled at him was later dropped.

The trial continues.

  • Support is available for those who may be distressed. Phone Lifeline 13 11 14; Canberra Rape Crisis Centre 6247 2525.
Tim Piccione

Tim Piccione

Court reporter

Tim is a journalist with the Canberra Times covering the ACT courts. He came to the nation's capital via the Daily Advertiser in Wagga. Contact: tim.piccione@canberratimes.com.au.

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