The turning point in Brittany Higgins’ version of events: Single detail about rape victim’s fiancé David Sharaz in bombshell judgment exposes when her rape allegation became something else entirely

David Sharaz’s involvement in Brittany Higgins’ life has been singled out as the turning point for when her story jumped from being about rape allegations to a wider political conspiracy.

Justice Michael Lee named Ms Higgins’ fiancé 111 times in his 324 page-long judgment on Monday, which marked the end of Bruce Lehrmann ‘s lengthy defamation case against Network Ten and Lisa Wilkinson.

Mr Sharaz garnered that extraordinary number of references even though he wasn’t a party to the court case, wasn’t a witness and never entered the courtroom during the month-long hearing last December.

Justice Lee ruled on Monday that Lehrmann raped Ms Higgins in Parliament House on March 23, 2019 and Network Ten was wrong to tell viewers that political forces stopped her from reporting her rape to police in its special Project episode.

The court found there was no political cover-up and noted that Ms Higgins only started suggesting that there might be such a political conspiracy when she met divorcee Mr Sharaz in 2020 – a year after her assault.

When Justice Lee asked why Mr Sharaz would not take the stand during the trial, Network Ten said he did not know Ms Higgins when she was raped in 2019 and his evidence therefore was not relevant.

But the judge expressed frustration over that response, comparing Mr Sharaz to the prophet Elijah. ‘There’s a place for him at the table but he never turns up,’ he said.

Brittany Higgins is pictured with David Sharaz in April 2021, after she went public with her rape allegations

David Sharaz is pictured outside court with Brittany Higgins in Perth in March

David Sharaz is pictured outside court with Brittany Higgins in Perth in March

Turning point 

Justice Lee determined that Ms Higgins made genuine representations about her assault to her father in phone calls and messages in February 2020, during which there was no discussion of a conspiracy.

He said the communications with her father were strong because they occurred before ‘the person later charged with the responsibility of “pitching” the project of the cover-up, Mr Sharaz, came into her life on May 29, 2020.’

Discussions of Mr Sharaz’s involvement in Ms Higgins’ story began in the judgment under the heading ‘The Development of the Cover-up Narrative’.

‘The articulation of the core aspects of this claim commenced shortly before Ms Higgins’s boyfriend, Mr Sharaz, made the necessary arrangements for Ms Higgins to tell her account,’ the judgment read.

Mr Sharaz hand-picked Wilkinson as one of the two journalists for Ms Higgins to tell her story to and became a conduit between them, even co-authoring a timeline of her assault to deploy to the press gallery.

Justice Lee did not accept Ms Higgins’ evidence that she wrote the document alone, partly because there were points where she was referred to in the third person.

In January 2020, Mr Sharaz sent Wilkinson an email with the attention-grabbing title ‘Me Too, Liberal Party, Project Pitch’ and immediately started telling her about a governmental conspiracy.

He wrote: ‘I’ve got a sensitive story surrounding a sexual assault at Parliament House; a woman who was pressured by the Liberal Party and female cabinet minister not to pursue it. She’s asked me to be the one to get the story told this year.’

He then sent her the timeline in an email titled ‘everything you need’, with yet another conspiracy claim.

‘I’m sending this on behalf of Britt, purely because, and this sounds paranoid, we just don’t know who might be keeping a close eye on her,’ he wrote.

Wilkinson later referred to the situation as ‘an extraordinary cover-up’ involving Ms Higgins’ former parliamentary bosses, senators Linda Reynolds and Michaelia Cash. 

Lisa Wilkinson is pictured, right, with her barrister Sue Chrysanthou SC after winning the defamation case on Monday

Lisa Wilkinson is pictured, right, with her barrister Sue Chrysanthou SC after winning the defamation case on Monday

The Project producer Angus Llewellyn is pictured outside court during the trial in December

The Project producer Angus Llewellyn is pictured outside court during the trial in December

Phone wiped 

Mr Sharaz accompanied Ms Higgins to an in-person meeting with Wilkinson and her The Project producer Angus Llewellyn on January 27, 2021 – about two weeks before her television interview went to air. 

During that meeting, which was recorded at the time and played before the court, Mr Sharaz motioned a photo of a bruise on Ms Higgins’ leg which she apparently sustained during her rape.

It was then suggested that Ms Higgins’ phone had been remotely wiped, possibly by the government in an attempt to stop her from making a formal complaint to police, but the photo somehow survived.

Wilkinson didn’t buy the idea that her phone was remotely wiped, but she did appear to believe that politicians and political staffers actively tried to stop Ms Higgins from reporting her rape.

Justice Lee found Ms Higgins was likely mistaken in thinking the bruise photo was from the rape itself. There was no metadata to suggest that photo existed before the morning of her first meeting with Wilkinson and Mr Llewellyn. 

Ms Higgins did report her rape to police after her television interview in February 2021, after which she was required to hand her phone over to investigators so they could download its contents.

Before she handed it over, she texted Mr Sharaz to say she was ‘cleaning out my phone ahead of the police’.

She started sending audio clips to Mr Sharaz, including a covert recording of a meeting with her former boss Michaelia Cash.

‘From Mr Sharaz’s response, it appears the specific audio sent to him on 21 May was a covertly recorded conversation, and he reassured her and there was some discussion as to whether she could trust the police,’ Justice Lee said.

The judge said some material from her phone may have been lost through faulty transfers between devices, but added: ‘It is more likely than not that she curated data because she thought deleting some material assisted in her maintaining the cogency of her [rape claims].’

Bruce Lehrmann is pictured outside court on Monday, after losing his defamation case on Monday

Bruce Lehrmann is pictured outside court on Monday, after losing his defamation case on Monday

‘Wilfully blind’ 

During the five-hour meeting, Mr Sharaz could clearly be heard saying he wanted Ms Higgins’ interview to come out at a specific time to put pressure on the Coalition government.

He listed ‘friendly’ Labor frontbenchers who would raise the matter during Senate estimates.

During his evidence, The Project producer Mr Lewellyn had told the court he didn’t think Mr Sharaz was politically motivated, nor did he think to question his motives at all.

In his judgment, Justice Lee said Mr Sharaz was entitled to believe there was a conspiracy and to push the matter with politicians, but he noted that experienced journalists should have probed the topic.

‘Any journalist who did not think (he) had a motivation to inflict immediate political damage would have to be wilfully blind,’ the judge said.

Lehrmann sued over the Ms Higgins’ interview on The Project in February 2021. 

He wasn’t named in that broadcast but claimed friends and colleagues were able to identify him as Ms Higgins’ rapist. He strongly denied raping Ms Higgins and launched defamation action in a bid to clear his name.

However, on Monday, Justice Lee found that Lehrmann brought Ms Higgins back to a ‘secluded place’, being the ministerial suite, after a night out with colleagues for the purpose of having sex with her.

He said Lehrmann was ‘hell-bent’ on having sex with Ms Higgins, that he knew she was very drunk and didn’t consider whether she consented to sexual intercourse.

In his judgment, Justice Lee said Ms Reynolds and her chief-of-staff Fiona Brown did not try to cover up Ms Higgins’ rape allegations.