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Blocked at every turn: Police say hunt for Higgins security video 'incredibly frustrating'

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Trying to obtain CCTV footage of Brittany Higgins and Bruce Lehrmann entering Parliament House before she was allegedly raped was a “frustrating” process, a court has heard.

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Detective Senior Constable Sarah Harman described how she and others at the Australian Federal Police tried to retrieve the vision in the weeks and months after Ms Higgins told them of the alleged sexual assault.

“It was frustrating,” she said while giving evidence at a defamation trial in the Federal Court on Friday.

“I’ve never encountered such pushback on obtaining CCTV before and it was incredibly frustrating for me.”

Police were told the footage could not be handed over after the election was called on April 11 and the government went into caretaker mode.

The video was eventually obtained and has been played during the court case.

Lehrmann is suing Network Ten and journalist Lisa Wilkinson claiming they defamed him through a February 2021 report on The Project.

Ms Wilkinson interviewed Ms Higgins about her allegation she was sexually assaulted by Lehrmann in the Parliament House office of their then-boss, Senator Linda Reynolds, in the early hours of March 23, 2019.

Lehrmann has denied this happened, claiming that no sexual contact or intimacy occurred between them.

Ms Higgins met with Det Sen Const Harman on April 8, 2019 for a “meet and greet” session with the AFP at Belconnen police station prior to making a formal complaint.

In the car ride there, Ms Higgins told her the white dress she had been wearing on the night of the alleged rape had not been washed and was in a bag under her bed.

At the police station, Det Sen Const Harman told Ms Higgins she wanted to retrieve the dress at some point in the near future as it was “perishable evidence” in the case.

“She understood the importance of this as possible independent corroborative evidence in relation to the allegation she had raised,” she told the court.

The officer also asked Ms Higgins to find out the name of the second bar she visited before going to Parliament House as she could not remember where she had gone after leaving The Dock late at night on March 22.

On April 13, Ms Higgins sent an email to the detective saying she no longer wished to pursue the complaint.

She never handed over the dress or informed the AFP of the name of the second bar, which turned out to be ’80s themed nightclub 88mph, the court was told.

On October 20 that year, the AFP received a media inquiry from the Canberra Times regarding the alleged rape with a claim the matter might be referred to in Senate estimates hearings.

Det Sen Const Harman said when she rang Ms Higgins to inform her the then-Liberal staffer broke down.

“She was hysterical at that point, very difficult to understand,” she said.

“She was clearly crying during that phone conversation with me – hysterical – and hung up abruptly.”

Ms Higgins was much calmer and said she was “all good” during a second phone conversation later that day, the detective said.

Lehrmann was charged in August 2021 over the alleged rape, but his criminal trial in the ACT Supreme Court was derailed by juror misconduct.

Prosecutors did not seek a second trial, citing concerns for Ms Higgins’ mental health.

Lehrmann is also before Queensland courts accused of raping another woman twice in Toowoomba in October 2021.

He has not yet entered a plea, but his lawyers have indicated he denies the charges.

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