Home Australian News Auerbach gives explosive evidence in Lehrmann defamation case

Auerbach gives explosive evidence in Lehrmann defamation case

Auerbach gives explosive evidence in Lehrmann defamation case

The Bruce Lehrmann/Network 10 defamation saga continued this week, with your correspondent tagging along to one of the most eventful days in a courtroom in his short career.

Thursday April 4 was originally set down as judgment day in the long-running case, before Justice Michael Lee agreed to reopen proceedings to hear evidence from Taylor Auerbach, the former Seven staffer assigned the job of convincing Lehrmann to agree to last year’s bombshell Spotlight interview, who was tasked with organising thousands of dollars’ worth of Thai massages for Lehrmann in the process. 

Lehrmann is suing Network Ten and journalist Lisa Wilkinson over a 2021 Project interview in which Lehrmann’s former colleague Brittany Higgins alleged she had been raped at Parliament House. Lehrmann, who denies all wrongdoing, was not named in the interview but alleges he was identifiable from the reporting. A later criminal trial in the ACT Supreme Court was abandoned after juror misconduct.

An affidavit sworn by Auerbach was filed in the Federal Court this week that alleged Seven Network paid for “illicit drugs and prostitutes” as part of the extensive efforts involved in securing the interview with Lehrmann.

He arrived in Sydney’s Queen’s Square (disappointingly not in the striking mesh shirt he was photographed in on his recent return from New Zealand) to a crush of journalists outside the courts. He did not respond to any questions, except from his former colleague, Sky News Australia’s Caroline Marcus.

Courtroom 22A was standing room only, with Wilkinson present for proceedings alongside a rabble of reporters. Daily Mail Australia even had a presence, with the Mail’s reporter remarking to this correspondent that Crikey “writes mean things about them”. Your correspondent makes no comment on being lectured by the Daily Mail about mean things being put in print. 

Auerbach began his evidence by telling the tale of a dinner on November 26, 2022, when he said the Spotlight team wined and dined Lehrmann, as well as his “media minder”, political consultant and former Liberal staffer John Macgowan. 

Auerbach said he went back to a Meriton apartment with Lehrmann that Seven had arranged, where Lehrmann took out a bag of cocaine and “started talking to me about … his desire to order prostitutes to the Meriton that night and began googling a series of websites to try and make that happen”.

“I told Mr Lehrmann I didn’t have the means to be able to pay for the activities that he would like to engage in, and he said that he would pay,” Auerbach said.

Auerbach told the court he was appointed by Seven to be Lehrmann’s “babysitter”, in order to “build up a relationship” with him. He claimed Lehrmann had agreed that night to do a Spotlight interview, on the unusual condition they asked him no questions about what happened on the night of Brittany Higgins’ alleged rape in Parliament House in 2019. 

Auerbach said he was “taken aback”.

“I put it to him that we would have to ask him hard questions as it was the sole purpose of the interview,” he said.

Over the course of the night, Auerbach said he had begun texting his boss, Steve Jackson, telling him “Bruce was on the warpath again and that it was no anomaly”. 

With his voice weak and trembling, Auerbach told the court: “I was scared.”

“I used the words ‘This is fucked’.”

Auerbach then took the court to March 14, 2023, when he said Lehrmann provided Spotlight with documents from his criminal proceedings after a dinner at Spice Temple, with Auerbach taking him up to the Spotlight offices in Martin Place. 

“Gave Mr Lehrmann my printer pass in the Spotlight offices and left [him] to photocopy a bundle of evidence,” Auerbach said, recalling that he recognised some of the documents as texts involving Higgins, owing to the blue and green bubbles characteristic of texts on Apple devices. 

Under cross-examination from Lehrmann’s barrister Matthew Richardson SC, Auerbach admitted recently sending photographs of a woman, without her consent, who was with Steve Jackson in a “state of undress” where her “breasts were exposed”. 

Jackson was earlier this year appointed executive director of public affairs at NSW Police, only for police commissioner Karen Webb to backflip on the decision just before Easter. NSW Police said the role needed to be fulfilled “free from external distractions”.

Auerbach told the court that he hated Jackson, in part due to becoming “sidelined” at Spotlight over the course of the Lehrmann story.

A video, which Auerbach had posted to social media captioned “Merry Christmas, sue me”, was also played for the court. In it, Auerbach comically attempts to destroy golf clubs that the court was told belonged to Jackson and were worth approximately $2,000. After smashing a driver over his knee, Auerbach broke a fairway wood, brandishing the snapped shaft of the club at the camera. Riffling through the bag looking for more clubs to break, Auerbach took out a short iron and unsuccessfully attempted to break it over his leg, to giggles from the gallery and a remark from Justice Lee: “The shorter the iron the more difficult it is.” 

Auerbach told the court that despite not being proud of the story, he was upset that his name was not on the Walkley Award entry, and complained to managers as well as to the Walkleys itself. He even threatened to raise the issue at the Seven AGM, although he remarked those threats were not serious. 

Richardson continued to press on Auerbach’s emotions over the matter, putting to him evidence from the notes of a clinical psychologist.

Auerbach said the morning after the infamous alleged Thai massages was “the worst morning of my life”.

When asked why he had initially said the expenses had nothing to do with work, Auerbach said he had been “trying to give Seven, and in some ways Mr Lehrmann, protection”.

Auerbach denied that Seven was unhappy with his conduct on the night of the alleged Thai massages, claiming “they offered me a promotion … and a pay rise”, to an audible gasp in the court. Wilkinson was seen smirking at a fellow patron in the gallery after this claim. 

Auerbach’s evidence will resume on Friday, with judgment set down for some time the following week. 


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