Office ‘steam cleaned’ after alleged rape
The Department of Finance sent in the cleaners to Defence Minister Linda Reynolds' office after a Liberal staffer was found half-naked on the couch sparking a police inquiry into whether there had been an attempt to "interfere with a suspected crime scene."
News.com.au has confirmed that police investigated the matter after concerns were raised about the decision to send in the cleaners on the same day the woman, 24-year-old Brittany Higgins, was found in a disorientated state.
But the Department of Parliamentary Services (DPS) says the Australian Federal Police (AFP) investigation found that because it did not know at the time it was a potential sexual assault that no "criminality" was involved in the clean.
Ms Higgins alleges she was raped in the then Defence Industry Minister's office by another Liberal staffer after a night out drinking.
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News.com.au raised questions with Parliament's presiding officers about the clean after being contacted by a whistleblower who claimed the office was "steam cleaned" on the day of the incident.
"The AFP has advised DPS that it had conducted enquiries into the action of DPS staff in the initial handling of the incident, including whether there was any criminality identified, such as attempts to conceal or interfere with a suspected crime scene,'' the DPS spokesman told news.com.au
"The AFP advised that there were no disclosures of sexual assault made by the complainant on the day of the incident and therefore actions taken by them (DPS) were not in response with a suspected crime".
The DPS also reveals in the statement that they entered the office of the then Defence Industry Minister on the weekend to clean it "at the request of the Department of Finance" which is responsible for managing the ministerial wing.
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This was immediately after the DPS informed the Department of Finance that two staffers had been found after hours in breach of the rules.
"DPS advised the Department of Finance, administrator of the Ministerial Wing of APH, on the morning of the incident,'' a DPS spokesman told news.com.au.
"At the request of the Department of Finance, DPS cleaners were granted access to the suite to conduct a routine office clean on the late afternoon of 23 March 2019.
Despite claims that the finance department told Senator Reynolds' office that an ambulance was offered to Ms Higgins, the DPS said this was not the case.
"DPS is not aware of any ambulance being offered. DPS has had extensive consultation with the AFP on this matter,'' a spokesman said.
This new account accords with Ms Brittany's own recollection that she was never offered medical assistance or an ambulance.
Closed circuit camera vision of Ms Higgins being led through Parliament House after midnight by a man she says sexually assaulted her has been carefully stored by the presiding officers of Parliament for nearly two years.
Ms Higgins has told news.com.au that repeated requests to view the security vision were denied at the time.
Ms Higgins was told by her then chief of staff that the vision showed her heavily inebriated and having difficulty walking and even signing her name when she was brought through the ministerial wing after midnight.
"At one point she said she saw the footage of me coming in. I got really latched on to the fact I needed to see the footage. I was really obsessed. They never allowed me to see it,'' Ms Higgins said.
"She said, you could see in the video you were very visually impaired. I couldn't sign my name properly on the sign in sheet. I wasn't walking right. I was very, very drunk and she relayed that. I wanted to see the video to piece it together."
Ms Higgins feared the CCTV footage had been destroyed, but a spokesman for the Department of Parliamentary Services has revealed it still exists and can be accessed by police.
"The relevant security camera footage relating to this incident was viewed by the Australian Federal Police in April 2019 and has been stored on an ongoing basis at the direction of the Presiding Officers and with the agreement of the AFP for their access as required for any investigation," a DPS spokesman said.
"DPS is not aware of any request from Ms Higgins to view or access CCTV footage."
Ms Higgins said she was told by police at an early stage of the investigation that they had encountered difficulty obtaining the CCTV.
"At that point, she had already started collecting footage," she said.
"She had already approached Parliament House, trying to get stuff from Parliament House. But she never got anything from Parliament."
But the DPS has confirmed it was stored and would be released to police - but only if Ms Higgins makes a formal complaint.
"The relevant security camera footage relating to this incident was viewed by the Australian Federal Police in 2019 and has been stored on an ongoing basis at the direction of the Presiding Officers and with the agreement of ACT Policing for their access as required for any investigation," a spokesman said.
"In line with the Australian Parliament House CCTV Code of Practice, the Presiding Officers will release the retained footage once a request is submitted by the police."
The AFP also confirmed it had been assured the CCTV still exists.
"ACT Policing liaised the Department of Parliamentary Services early in the investigation. CCTV, following the allegation being reported to ACT Policing, has been secured by the Department of Parliamentary Services," it said.
"Should the CCTV footage be required for the ACT Policing investigation, it will be provided at our request."
Ms Higgins is considering her options over whether to ask police to reopen the investigation or raise a complaint with the Department of Finance over how the matter was handled.
Originally published as Office 'steam cleaned' after alleged rape