Bruce Lehrmann messaged friends asking “you got any gear?” and saying “need bags” on the night Brittany Higgins’ allegations of rape were first reported, suggesting to friends they “get lit”.
The federal court on Friday released a series of WhatsApp and text messages sent by Lehrmann to his friends and girlfriend on 15 February 2021, the day that News Corp and Network Ten first reported Higgins’ allegations.
The texts are relevant to Lehrmann’s bid to extend the usual 12-month time limit on defamation claims, which would allow him to sue Network Ten, News Corp, Samantha Maiden, and Lisa Wilkinson.
He is arguing that he did not file his defamation claim within the 12-month time limit in part due to legal advice from then lawyer Warwick Korn that he should wait until after criminal proceedings.
Lehrmann is also arguing that his mental health and the criminal proceedings he faced – he was charged six months later, in August – also delayed him bringing a defamation claim.
Earlier on 15 February, he had fielded messages from two friends asking him about News Corp’s story. At 10.29am, Harry Hughes, described in court as a close friend of Lehrmann’s, sent him a link to the story and asked:
“Know this chick?”
Lehrmann responded : “Yeah worked with her briefly.”
“(She) was at team drinks etc.”
Almost an hour later, Hughes messaged again saying it was a “pretty cooked allegation” and then asking Lehrmann if he knew who it referred to.
Lehrmann responded: “Not the faintest idea. I haven’t been approached by anyone.”
At 11.41am, another friend, John Macgowan, asked Lehrmann: “You got any [gossip] on who the Canberra rape guy is, the yarn says ‘rising star’ so that rules out our mates but who else?”
Lehrmann responded: “No idea mate in the slightest.”
“I haven’t been approached.”
The messages show that Lehrmann subsequently was referred by Hughes to Korn for advice, went to meet with him and drank scotch in his office, where they watched The Project’s interview with Higgins in Korn’s office.
Lehrmann again texted Macgowan three times at 10.11pm, saying “Need bags” and “Let’s get it done” and “No one has work tomorrow.”
Shortly afterwards, he told Macgowan that a friend was paying.
“Harry paying apparently as he’s staying,” he said.
“Lol so let’s get lit.”
About 20 minutes later, Lehrmann texted another friend.
“You got any gear? Harry and John here,” he said referring to Hughes and Macgowan.
She responded: “No I am at home. And you guys need to keep it clean. Enough!!!”
Lehrmann then told her he had two lawyers and was “up for a ‘bit’ of money”.
She then texted:
“Clear your name mate that’s all that matters. You only have your name and one name”.
She messaged at 10.45pm that Lehrmann needed to “take this seriously”.
“Go home and don’t leave your apartment,” she said.
Lehrmann responded: “Yeah I have.”
On Thursday, Lehrmann was cross-examined about his reasons for delaying the defamation claim. Lawyers for the media outlets said some of the texts suggested Lehrmann had both been contemplating defamation action from a very early stage and had also been advised that he would not face criminal proceedings.
In one message, also sent while Lehrmann was in Korn’s office on the night of 15 February 2021, Lehrmann said he had been advised he could obtain millions in a defamation claim.
“If I’m named tonight, he says I’m up for millions as defamation,” Lehrmann told his then girlfriend.
In another text he suggested that his advice was that he would not face criminal proceedings and that the criminal allegations would “not see the light of a courtroom”.
In one message, he said: “Criminal, he says, is off the cards completely. One, it’s false, and second, they have nothing.”
Lehrmann said the messages, and many others, were fabrications and that his lawyer had not given him any such advice. He said the texts were designed to placate his then girlfriend, who was “incredibly upset and distraught”.
Lehrmann has denied raping Higgins and pleaded not guilty to a charge of sexual intercourse without consent. His first trial was abandoned due to juror misconduct and the second did not proceed due to prosecutors’ fears for Higgins’ mental health.
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