DPP Drumgold wrong, but not sorry at Sofronoff inquiry

Andrew L. Urban

Bruce Lehrmann sat quietly in a back corner of the anodyne, lawyer-filled room in Canberra last week where former judge Walter Sofronoff KC is chairing the inquiry into the hot mess that grew out of the Brittany Higgins allegation of rape against him. The tables had turned: he wasn’t the defendant in this hearing, his former prosecutor was. 

The public hearings began on Monday May 8, 2023, and the first witness to appear was the ACT’s DPP, Shane Drumgold, who prosecuted the case at the trial that was aborted even as the jury was considering their verdict, in October 2022, after hearing two weeks of evidence. It was aborted due to juror misconduct, but after the first week of the inquiry, it could be argued that had a guilty verdict been delivered, Lehrmann’s appeal would have unearthed the same grave errors of judgement by Drumgold that he was forced to admit in the Sofronoff inquiry last week. But the admissions – often made reluctantly, hesitantly, with qualifications – were not accompanied by expressions of regret.

Kate Richardson SC

He admitted to the inquiry, after hot grilling by Kate Richardson SC acting for the AFP, that he no longer believed or suspected that there was a conspiracy between ministers, the AFP commissioner and police to interfere with the process and close it down.

He admitted he had not read all the police statements, and that he was wrong to claim the AFP investigative review document (the Moller report) was privileged – and therefore he had not made it available to the Lehrmann defence team. Drumgold said he didn’t want the Moller Report in the hands of the defence because he thought it would be “crushing” to Higgins. (And to the defendant? And to the course of justice?)

He admitted that it “never occurred” to him to tell Higgins that he (alone) had read her confidential counselling notes, nor that he should step down from the case after reading them.

He admitted he did not give Lisa Wilkinson a clear warning not to give her speech at the Logies; he didn’t want to hear it when she began to read it out to him, but felt confident that her lawyers would give her the right advice. It was not for him to do that. He thought she came to him (with lawyer in attendance) to brag about her Logie nomination (for her interview of Higgins; her speech at the award ceremony referenced the case).

He admitted to misleading the court when he told Chief Justice Lucy McCallum that a proofing note the judge relied on to castigate journalist Lisa Wilkinson was contemporaneous and that it was created by his junior solicitor. That part of the proofing note was created at the DPP’s explicit direction to a junior lawyer, in his office, after Wilkinson’s controversial Logies speech.

Sue Chrysanthou

He agreed with Sofronoff that his submissions “could have the effect of misleading her”. Barrister Sue Chrysanthou SC, for Wilkinson, put it to Drumgold that he knew the judge’s interpretation was not accurate and did nothing to correct her. “I thought I had warned her (Wilkinson). I thought what I said to her amounted to a warning,” he said.

On Wednesday, counsel assisting, Erin Longbottom KC, asked Drumgold about his December press statement where he lauded Higgins’ bravery and dignity after announcing he would not retry Lehrmann.

Longbottom: “Did you turn your mind to the impact that statement might have on Mr Lehrmann, who was entitled to the presumption of innocence?”

Drumgold: “Possibly not as much as I should have.”

Erin Longbottom KC

After Longbottom’s questions led Drumgold to admit that he was unfair to Lehrmann in that public outburst, the DPP doubled down on Thursday by claiming, without a scintilla of evidence, there were 11 jurors who planned to convict Lehrmann. One rogue juror, who caused the mis­trial, was the holdout, he claimed.

He repeatedly told the hearing that in his view, the police were “passionate” in their belief that the case should not proceed to trial. To Drumgold that demonstrated their outdated stereotypical views about sexual assault complainants. Statements tendered to the inquiry record Drumgold as describing police as “boofheads”. He accused them, in front of the jury, of having a low skill set.

The obvious irony to anyone observing the Sofronoff inquiry last week is that it seemed Drumgold was the one who so passionately believed the complainant that his own bias was obscured.

Walter Sofronoff KC

“His fate now depends on what Sofronoff makes of his responses and whether he concludes that the DPP breached his duties when he commenced, continued and then discontinued the case against Lehrmann,” according to Chris Merritt, Vice President of the Rule of Law Institute.

Sitting a few steps from Drumgold in front of Sofronoff was Mark Tedeschi KC, representing Drumgold. To this observer, Tedeschi was a fitting choice for Drumgold. He is the former NSW DPP who prosecuted Gordon Wood (among others) and had to defend himself against a malicious prosecution charge by Wood. At that trial, Justice Fullerton reprimanded Tedeschi for being “disingenuous” and for “impermissibly straining for a conviction”. Drumgold may have recognised a kindred spirit…

The inquiry will continue to hold public hearings on Monday and Tuesday next week (May 15 & 16, 2023), with evidence from Lehrmann’s barrister Steven Whybrow SC.

Bruce Lehrmann



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8 Responses to DPP Drumgold wrong, but not sorry at Sofronoff inquiry

  1. Brian Johnston says:

    Tedeschi again. A …… of work. (edited for legal reasons). The one who convicted Milat who is innocent.

    • Julie says:

      Does any book exist regarding these rumours or whispers that Milat was innocent of the murders for which he served prison time.?
      If true, who & what did they stand to gain from ensuring Milat was convicted?

      • Peter Gill says:

        There’s no book that makes any case that Milat is innocent.

        There’s a wonderful, well-researched book called Sins of the Brother: the Definitive Story of Ivan Milat by Mark Whittaker and the late Les Kennedy, which has heaps of material about the upbringing of the Milat brothers and all sorts of material which appears nowhere else. I doubt if anybody could comment sensibly on the case if they haven’t read that book.

  2. Steven Fennell says:

    Stupid is; as stupid does

  3. Peter says:

    Shane Drumgold on Wikipedia https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shane_Drumgold
    is interesting to read.

    • John S says:

      Interesting to read. Seems a classic case of well educated, but still bent!

      Never let school be your only source of education! School alone is not real life!

      It seems we’re still a way off from having much general wisdom (common sense) taught in schools, and I’m not holding my breath waiting for that to happen!

      He can wear as many black & white tunics as he likes, he’s still a novice!

      Only fitting he’s the DPP of the ACT (the bubble) where gravity has no effect it seems! They’re still learning how to run the country there too! Please help us!

  4. John S says:

    After the inquiry is over and written up, it’s quite possible that Drumgold may be charged with (attempting to) pervert the course of justice for having key evidence withheld from the jury. But that’s for them to consider.

    Corruption is white collar crime, an often neglected type of crime though equally as damaging, if not more so. If we can’t have faith in getting a fair trial, free from interference at the highest level, then what do we have? A: Dictatorship!

    Most of government is the unelected, but the elected are to be held accountable, if not the unelected. Could this spell the resignation of the ACT Attorney-General? Let’s see.

    • Father Ted Whalensky says:

      Poor little layman me haveth a question – If the Judge or Judges in any legal proceedings refuses to allow a crucial witness to be called or recalled – and the Relevant Lawers from either side of the fence don’t jump up in indignation- eg.Vass. What the HELL has happened ? Why is there not an explosion of wrath ?When the dear little Policeyman doesn’t produce the DNA oozing blue cloth ? (or his effing big flat contaminated booties ) How can that be ? In some ways of interesting relevance ( to me ) – Two-TWO
      Right Royal Commissions on the Voyager Distaster- a surviving witness on the Bridge of the Voyager was never heard – that one piece of almost amazingly cunning concealement- throws a completely different light on those events – and unjustly damages a good man – the Blue Cloth surely was a similar nuisance – to the Script Writers – and their satisfaction at a win – (and to hell with JUSTICE ! PS. I’m not a poor layman . Fetal blood spray under the dash – and not even a Colin Manock required ? There is absolutely nothing amazing about any of these Shenanigans – this mendacity is standard Legal practice in Australian Courts of Justice. Done like a dinner- you sure have been !

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