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Lehrmann cops sue over ‘bullying’ claim

Written by on May 17, 2024

Five police officers have launched defamation action against the ACT and its former director of public prosecutions Shane Drumgold over allegations about their handling of Bruce Lehrmann’s sexual assault trial.

The Australian Federal Police officers alleged in a statement of claim they were defamed by Mr Drumgold in a letter to ACT Chief Police Officer Neil Neil Gaughan in 2022, later published by the Guardian as part of a freedom of information request.

In the letter, Mr Drumgold claimed to have felt pressured by police not to pursue prosecution of Mr Lehrmann after he was accused by Brittany Higgins of sexually assaulting her in Parliament House in 2019.

The officers allege the letter carried the imputation that officers “acted disgracefully” by seeking to mislead Mr Drumgold about the strength of the case and had aligned themselves “in response to political pressures”.

They further allege in their statement of the claim the imputations of the letter included that the officers, who were named, had bullied Ms Higgins and assisted Mr Lehrmann’s legal team during the criminal trial.

The officers allege the letter and subsequent public inquiry exposed them to potentially “serious reputational harm” both within the AFP, in light of the first letter, and publicly after it was published by the Guardian.

The five police officers – Marcus Boorman, Scott Moller, Michael Chew, Trent Madders, and Emma Frizzell – all made claims for differing amounts of monetary compensation that totals about $1.415m.

Mr Drumgold prosecuted Mr Lehrmann in his role as the Territory’s DPP in 2022 before the trial collapsed due to jury misconduct. Police did not retry the case due to concerns about Ms Higgins’ health.

A judge overseeing Mr Lehrmann’s defamation case against Network 10 and journalist Lisa Wilkinson last month ruled on the balance of probabilities he Mr Lehrmann had raped Ms Higgins in the ministerial office.

In the statement of claim, the officers allege Mr Drumgold had published the letter twice, first to Mr Gaughan and then under the FOI request to the Guardian on December 7, 2022.

They allege that by sending the unredacted letter Mr Drumgold acted “maliciously” and did not give “proper consideration to the (the police officers’) human rights” in respect to their privacy and reputation.

The officers allege the ACT is “vicariously liable” because of Mr Drumgold’s “misfeasance in public office” and claimed the former DPP was not authorised to release the letter under the FOI request.

The statement of claim alleges Mr Drumgold was obliged to consult with the AFP and each of the five officers “as relevant third parties” before agreeing to release the letter to the Guardian but failed to do so.