Multiple media outlets have received legal letters from lawyers for Bruce Lehrmann, as the former Coalition staffer begins potential defamation action over coverage of allegations by Brittany Higgins that she was raped in Parliament House in 2019.
Guardian Australia has been told by a source close to Lehrmann’s team that media outlets including News Corp Australia, Paramount and radio station WSFM were issued with concerns notices in recent days.
Further concerns notices may be sent to other media outlets, the source said.
Lehrmann’s lawyers were contacted for comment, as were the media outlets. Paramount declined to comment on Wednesday night, while News Corp did not immediately respond.
The Australian Radio Network issued a statement on behalf of WSFM: “ARN confirms that it has received a legal claim from Bruce Lehrmann’s lawyers. Given this is an ongoing legal matter, ARN will not be providing further comment at this stage.”
Earlier on Wednesday, the Australian Capital Territory chief minister, Andrew Barr, and the attorney general, Shane Rattenbury, announced an inquiry into Lehrmann’s case following the prosecutor’s explosive allegations the police “aligned” with the defence in his trial for the alleged rape of Higgins. The probe was announced three weeks after prosecutors said they would not pursue a retrial as it would pose an “unacceptable risk” to Higgins’ health.
Lehrmann maintains his innocence over allegations that he raped Higgins, a colleague and fellow political staffer, in the office of the then defence industry minister Linda Reynolds in March 2019. He pleaded not guilty to one charge of sexual intercourse without consent, denying that any sexual activity had occurred. The trial was abandoned in October after a juror brought in outside research papers on sexual assault.
Lehrmann has been widely reported to be considering “legal remedies”, including an unfair dismissal claim and defamation action, after prosecutors decided not to proceed with a retrial due to fears about its impact on Higgins.
It was previously reported that Lehrmann was taking advice from top defamation lawyer Mark O’Brien. O’Brien has previously worked for Ben Roberts-Smith in his defamation case against Fairfax.
Guardian Australia has been told the notice sent to News Corp relates to reporting on the news.com.au website, while Paramount’s notice relates to reporting on Channel 10’s The Project.
It is understood Lehrmann’s legal team will seek an exemption to the one-year statute of limitations around defamation proceedings, arguing the concerns were not issued earlier due to the ongoing court process brought against Lehrmann.
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