Fiona Brown and the Lehrmann/Higgins fiasco: no good deed shall go unpunished

Yet another front page of The Australian (Weekend, June 10/11, 2023) devoted almost entirely to the disastrous fallout from Brittany Higgins’ rape allegations and subsequent abandoned trial, reveals how staffer Fiona Brown’s good deeds didn’t go unpunished… 

Continuing their forensic investigation, Janet Albrechtsen and Stephen Rice report the first interview with Fiona Brown, the much-maligned chief of staff in Senator Reynolds’ office. Maligned not by Reynolds, but just about everyone else. Below are selected extracts from the extensive reports published in The Weekend Australian:

Ms Brown said the most senior figures in the Prime Minister’s ­Office failed to support her after she was wrongly accused by Ms Higgins of failing to help her, a claim weaponised by Labor to ­attack Mr Morrison. “It all ­becomes about the survival of the PM,” Ms Brown said. 

Fiona Brown

Both Ms Brown and Senator Reynolds have steadfastly denied the allegations, saying Ms Higgins made no allegation of rape or ­assault and that when she ­ultimately hinted at some kind of sexual activity they immediately arranged for her to talk to police.

On February 18, 2021, Anthony Albanese asked Mr Morrison during question time whether he had spoken to Ms Brown about Ms Higgins’ claim her job had been threatened. Mr Morrison said he had. Ms Brown said that was not true and after that question time, the then-prime minister had approached her and said “we’ve spoken, haven’t we”. Even worse, she said, was the accusation she first heard on The Project: that she had helped cover up a rape. “The worst thing you can say about a woman is to say she walked past another woman’s rape,” she said. “And that interview with Lisa Wilkinson framed me as a rape apologist.”

The trial

True to form, Brown entered the ACT Supreme Court far from the heaving media pack, around the back, from Vernon Circle, Canberra’s famous ring road. She took the stand in courtroom Number 3 at 10.41am on October 11.

Over the course of the day, until she was excused as a witness just after 2pm, the senior staffer would not be given the chance to counter the most serious allegations against her.

Brown could at least set the record straight about the CCTV footage when asked during cross-examination by Steven Whybrow whether she had ever seen the footage of Higgins walking into Parliament House in the early hours of March 23, 2019. Brown was emphatic. “I’ve never seen the footage.” Did the CCTV footage ever come up in conversation? “No. Never.” In yet another twist, Higgins would see the footage before Brown, when AFP Detective Superintendent Scott Moller agreed to show her it after her persistent requests in the lead up to the trial.

You’ve been absolutely incredible and I’m so appreciative.”

Brown saw the controversial footage for the first time when it was shown on the Seven Network’s Spotlight interview with Lehrmann last Sunday night (June 4, 2023). The CCTV footage shows Higgins smiling and skipping through the corridor after she has gone through security, with little sign of the high level of drunkenness she had claimed. The trial also allowed Brown to explain her support for Higgins. She recounted how she asked Higgins during the first meeting: “Are you OK? Has something happened that you didn’t want to happen? I get up and walk over and I say: ‘Do you want to sit down? Can I get you a cup of tea?’ No. ‘A glass of water?’ No. ‘Would you like to make a complaint?’ And she shakes her head to say no…”

On June 7, 2019, after the re-election of the Morrison government, Higgins sent Brown a message: “I wanted to say this in person but – I cannot overstate how much I’ve valued your support and advice throughout this period. You’ve been absolutely incredible and I’m so appreciative.”

Just before the trial paused for lunch, Brown broke down in tears when Whybrow read out the text message that Higgins had sent her former boss thanking her for her support. After Brown was excused, and the jury left the room, Whybrow told the Chief Justice that Higgins had deleted the text from her phone. [But Brown’s phone was not required by police, hence it remains as evidence of its existence. ]

 Brown says hearing Higgins’ text, recognising her support for the young woman, was a “reminder” of that time compared to where Brown found herself 2½ years later, portrayed and persecuted as a villain. “It was jarring, it was so obvious that the chasm between the two [periods in her life] was so deep,” she says. When Higgins returned to the stand, on October 14, having a break for mental health reasons, she told the jury that Brown and Reynolds said “they would pay me out the entirety of the election to go to the Gold Coast, but that … I would never have a job again”.

Brown was distressed by what she says was a false assertion by Higgins that she had been induced by an offer of public funds by Brown. “I felt that was an accusation of corruption.” But once again, Brown was denied the ability to correct the record. She emailed the DPP’s office that same day, pointing out that she had been misrepresented by Higgins. Brown wanted her to be recalled. She didn’t – receive a reply.

 Six months later, the Sofronoff Inquiry would hear that Brown’s email pointing out the discrepancy was never disclosed to Whybrow, meaning the defence was not given the chance to recall Brown. During the board of inquiry into the ACT justice system’s handling of the Lehrmann/Higgins matter, Whybrow described Brown as “the most important witness in this case because she’s the only person that had taken contemporaneous notes of what happened”. Worse was to come for Brown. During his closing remarks, the DPP used Brown’s breakdown in the witness box against her, implying some kind of guilt.



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7 Responses to Fiona Brown and the Lehrmann/Higgins fiasco: no good deed shall go unpunished

  1. Steven Fennell says:

    I posted earlier a comment and some contact details; however I was remiss in not including this gem.

    It is a 10 page read about withholding evidence from the defence, causing innocent citizens to be falsely convicted. It was authored by Peter Hastings QC and should stand as the benchmark with regards to prosecutors and ethics.

  2. Jerry Fitzsimmons says:

    Must be on fire Andrew with all these revelations. Makes me wonder who is ‘the honest politician’ let alone ‘the honest bureaucrat’ in all of this as well as ‘the credible journalist’ not to mention ‘the believable lawyer’. What a crisis for all these professions. “Yes Minister” please come back on our tv’s for decent honest laughable viewing.

  3. Steven Fennell says:

    I read with sadness the frustrations of people who expect the legal system to be fair and just only to find that at times it is far from that.

    In my case I recall the DPP wanting to bring forward a witness – a prison informant. This person has a long history of fraud and being a corroborating police witness. I refer to Mr Lorenzo Suarez (worth a quick Google search). His evidence against me seemed credible to a lay person until you actually deconstructed the time-line.

    I wrote to the DPP and said that we would accept Mr Lorenzo Suarez as a witness but had a real expectation that he produce the Time machine that he used to create his version of events. In short this wack-a doo gave evidence under oath in a police statement that I deposited the alleged murder weapon in the Bay BEFORE Mrs Watson was murdered.

    Common sense prevailed and he was not called as a witness, which didn’t change the result given the way my layers failed to defend the DPP allegations with evidence that we had.

    Further on the topic of withholding evidence the police and therefore the DPP had access to witness statements that did not have me at the scene when claimed – simply withheld the timeline.

    As for lawyer raising that defence, seems that he failed to read the same witness statements as me because he never made that argument in court against instructions.

    Until the prosecution has removed it’s BS right to absolute-immunity this shit will continue.

  4. Donna HARRIS says:

    Never let the truth get in the way of a good lie.

    When witnesses are characterised and your lawyers are not aware of contrary evidence how can justice for either victims or defendants win. Instead the defendants often exercise a right to silence and thankfully in Mr Lerhmanns case he did.

    More will come out. Goodluck with your book.

  5. Father Ted Whalensky says:

    After Imprisoning an innocent man for 20 years – David Eastman- and paying out a lousy $7 million maybe the Canberra Police Playwriting Team are a little gun shy ? Not quite ready to “rape” another possible innocent – certainly no guarantee of a Magnificent Wrongful Conviction – with no evidence – not that this has stopped any Virtuous Policeymens in Australia before ! Call in the Forensics – from London (or South Australia) – the confession to a cell mate – the famous verbal ( sorry- written) confession to the future Policeymens Commissioner – Leech -Darryl Beamish – 50 years and $450 thousand. The John Button 50 year dirty deed by the DPP.- $400 thousand. Dear Lindy- 30 years to ADMIT a dog eat your baby . The Forensics were an example to all Policeymens – this is how it’s done ! As one of Australia’s most Legally Qualified PMs said IN Hansard – ” The Necessary Evil “. 50 years for the Skim Milk – 50 minutes for the Hot Shot Cream. And not one minute in jail ! Who is effing who ?

    • Owen allen says:

      Chill out Whalensky, Justice Will Be Done, we love you, you are full on, dont blow your boiler, we might not see it happen, but Justice Will Be Done.

  6. Don Wakeling says:

    So, the DPP withholds vital information ( i.e. evidence) from the Defence. Is there no end to
    this disgrace? Neill-Fraser’s DPP in Tasmania; SA’s former Solicitor General, now the Chief Justice of South Australia, both withholding vital evidence from the defence, both causing innocent citizens to be falsely convicted and to rot in gaol. Why are these criminals, that is persons clearly guilty of perverting the course of justice, not on trial ?

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