A forensic expert has told a court she found no sperm on the cocktail dress Brittany Higgins wore before she was allegedly raped by an ex-colleague.
The former political staffer wore a white Kookai pencil dress the night she alleges Bruce Lehrmann sexually assaulted her in the parliament building in Canberra.
Forensic biologist Jennifer Stone told the ACT Supreme Court on Wednesday she had found no sperm on the dress, but said the tests — which came two years after the alleged rape — were “in a sense inconclusive” because it had been washed.
The court later heard Ms Higgins told police that Lehrmann “got pretty handy” at a bar before the alleged assault early on March 23, 2019, after a drunken night out.
Lehrmann, 26, has pleaded not guilty to one count of unauthorized sexual intercourse.
Ms Higgins was not available to complete her cross-examination until Friday this week, leaving Prosecutor Shane Drumgold SC to call a series of other witnesses.
The details of their evidence could only now be revealed as a result of a court order banning publication until the former political staffer had completed cross-examination.
Court heard that Brittany Higgins (pictured) stowed the dress under her bed before washing it in what she described as a symbolic act
Forensic expert Jennifer Stone said the tests are “in a sense inconclusive” when asked if it was possible that there was sperm on the dress before it was washed by Ms Higgins (pictured)
On Wednesday, Ms Stone – a senior forensic biologist who works for the Australian Federal Police – told the court that she was given Ms Higgins’ dress on 6 February 2021 and was asked to test for semen.
“I was told there was a dress that had been laundered and that it had been delayed quite a bit since the time of the alleged incident… [it had been] washed once and put away,’ she said.
The court had previously heard that Ms Higgins had stored the dress under her bed before washing it sometime before May 2019, in what she described as a symbolic act.
Ms Stone told the court she has ‘visually examined’ the dress for areas of interest – finding a… brown spot and had it tested for blood but the results were negative.
She told the court that she then ran screening tests for semen with a blue light and orange glasses — similar to “the ones you might see on some crime shows” — all over the dress looking for areas that needed further investigation.
Federal Police Officer Katie Thelning told the court Ms. Higgins said the man she claimed raped her, Bruce Lehrmann (pictured right), “was pretty handy” at a bar that night.
Lehrmann, 26, (photo arrived at the Supreme Court in the ACT on Thursday) has pleaded not guilty to one count of sexual intercourse without consent
Ms Stone said there were a ‘few’ areas that needed further testing but showed negative results for sperm.
“I then screened the entire inside of the dress, the skirt part of the dress, just to see, just to be thorough,” she told the court.
‘[The screening] gave a negative result.’
When prosecutor Skye asked Jerome if it was possible that there was sperm on the dress before it was washed, Ms Stone said the tests she conducted are “in a sense inconclusive.”
“It’s possible there was semen and it was washed out,” she told the court.
“In this case, I ran the sperm screening tests and was unable to detect any sperm on the item.”
Attorney Steven Whybrow cross-examined Ms Stone whether it was possible to find sperm on garments that had been washed.
“I know it’s possible to get a semen stain from a garment that has been laundered,” she explained.
Ms Stone added that she personally had never found a positive sample on a washed garment.
Later on Wednesday, the court heard from federal agents Rebecca Cleaves and Katie Thelning, who work in Parliament House and were the first police officers to speak to Ms Higgins about the alleged attack.
Defense attorneys Katrina Musgrove and Steven Whybrow (both pictured) represent Lehrmann in ACT Supreme Court trial
Ms Cleaves recalled that Ms Higgins said she had fallen during the meeting on April 1, 2019 twice on the night she claims she was raped and got into an Uber with a colleague and gave him her address.
But they traveled through Parliament House, “which somewhat surprised her,” Ms Cleaves told the court.
When they arrived at Parliament House, Ms Cleaves told the court that Ms Higgins recalled that ‘her colleague, Bruce, told her to play along’.
Ms Cleaves also told the court that Ms Higgins said she woke up in Parliament and “smelled sex, so then she vomited”.
Ms Thelning said she took detailed notes as Ms Higgins told her story at the meeting and read them to the court.
‘I then fell over dancing. I felt ashamed and then sat down,” the federal police officer read from her notes.
“Bruce sat with me and got pretty handy. I did not mind. I felt like I was super drunk. I lost it again on the stairs.’
Ms Thelning told the court that Ms Higgins remembered getting into a taxi with Lehrmann and giving him her address, then she remembered being in Parliament House.
She went on to read Ms. Higgins’ statement from her notes: “I don’t remember going to the suite. I remember sitting on the minister’s couch. Don’t forget he was on top of me. Bruce says something about finishing.’
“I said something like, ‘No, don’t do it.’ He left. I just stayed there. When I woke up, it was morning. I remember thinking it was almost eight o’clock. I thought, why am I here? Are there people about to enter? I felt grossed out because I could smell what had happened to me.’
Ms Thelning told the court that Ms Higgins had decided to “put up what happened so it wouldn’t be a retelling of my life story.”
Ms. Higgins also told federal police that she went to a medical center for tests, but the results have yet to come back.
She notes that Mrs. Higgins was crying and apologized for being upset.
The process continues.