The explosive allegations of police misconduct surrounding the case of Bruce Lehrmann have been referred to the federal integrity and corruption watchdog for law enforcement, the ACT attorney general says.
On Thursday, the Guardian revealed that the territory’s top prosecutor, Shane Drumgold SC, had made a private complaint to chief police officer Neil Gaughan in November, just after the trial of Lehrmann collapsed due to juror misconduct.
Drumgold’s letter, released under freedom of information, made a series of extraordinary allegations about police conduct during the investigation and trial stages, saying he felt there was “a very clear campaign to pressure” him not to prosecute the alleged rape of Brittany Higgins.
He alleged investigators had bullied Higgins, forcing her to insulate herself from further contact with them, and that police “clearly aligned with the successful defence of this matter” during the trial.
Drumgold told Gaughan he wanted a public inquiry into police and political conduct during the case.
The Australian Federal Police Association, which represents ACT police officers, has since described the allegations as “smears”.
The police union said it supports an inquiry, but one that examined the conduct of a range of parties, including the DPP.
Gaughan has also backed a public inquiry, according to a leaked email reported by news.com.au on Friday.
“I welcome a public inquiry into all aspects of the matter including, (but not limited) to the actions of police, the prosecution and defence, issues leading to delays in the trial, issues leading to the subsequent mistrial, the decision not to proceed and the associated allegations of contempt of court,” Gaughan reportedly wrote.
Earlier on Friday, the Guardian asked Shane Rattenbury, the ACT’s attorney general, whether his government was contemplating an inquiry and what form it may take.
Rattenbury is yet to decide whether to establish the kind of public inquiry both the DPP and AFPA desire.
But he said the matter had already been referred to the Australian Commission for Law Enforcement Integrity – the integrity and corruption watchdog that oversees the Australian federal police and other agencies.
“I am aware the matter has been referred to Australian Commission for Law Enforcement Integrity,” he said. “As such, it is not appropriate to comment further at this time.”
The DPP and ACT Policing had already revealed that an inquiry was under way, but did not specify which agency was conducting it.
Earlier this week, Rattenbury told the Guardian he backed Drumgold and maintained confidence in him.
He was asked about the issue again on Friday morning and, according to the ABC, he said the government was contemplating Drumgold’s allegations “quite seriously”. Rattenbury again backed Drumgold.
“I was asked during the week whether I had confidence in the director [Drumgold] and I have not seen anything to this point that has me [questioning] otherwise,” he said.
“But the director has raised these concerns with me briefly, and I am certainly in the process of seeking out more details. Given the serious nature of the allegations, obviously the government will contemplate this quite seriously and consider the best way to proceed.”
Lehrmann has consistently maintained his innocence and pleaded not guilty to one charge of sexual intercourse without consent.
He says no sexual activity occurred with Higgins, a fellow political staffer. The collapse of the trial leaves him with the presumption of innocence.