Bruce Lehrmann: Explosive new claim from Taylor Auerbach

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Former Spotlight producer Taylor Auerbach claims Bruce Lehrmann leaked Brittany Higgins’ personal text messages to the program after the producer and Mr Lehrmann went on a two-night bender that included partying with sex workers.

The untested claims are contained in an affidavit that was tendered to the Federal Court during a hearing presided over by Justice Michael Lee on Tuesday night.

The claims involve two nights in January, 2023, after Auerbach spent $10,000 on Thai massages in December, 2022, without the knowledge or consent of Channel 7, on a corporate credit card.

The material is untested and Mr Auerbach will be cross examined on Thursday after Justice Lee announced Channel Ten had won its bid to reopen the case.

The alleged two-night bender included a visit to a Sydney brothel where a group of men, including Mr Lehrmann, spent time with the sex workers.

At the time, Mr Lehrmann had been informed he was facing a new rape charge in Toowoomba, but it had not yet become public.

It did become public around a week later, but Mr Lehrmann’s name was suppressed – information that Spotlight was aware of before he sat down for an interview for the June, 2023 broadcast.

All outcalls to escorts and visits to brothels occurred without the knowledge or consent of any Seven executives.

Corporate credit cards were not used after the first Thai masseuse duo were called to Taylor Auerbach’s Elizabeth Bay apartment.

Instead, the sex workers were paid for privately.

November, 2022: ‘I pay you cash’ revealed last month that a Spotlight credit card was used by an employee, who has since left Network Seven, to book a masseuse for Mr Lehrmann in November, 2022.

The employee was subsequently identified in the media as Mr Auerbach.

The credit charge was without the knowledge or consent of executive producer Mark Llewellyn, who counselled him after the incident.

However, the bombshell affidavit reveals the total amount charged to the account was much more than previously known.

The affidavit claims the total amount spent was not $2,940 but $10,000.

At the time, it prompted attempts by the Spotlight team to reverse the transaction when the employee owned up to using the credit card to pay for the masseuse.

Spotlight producer Steve Jackson, who was not present on the night and did not authorise or have any knowledge of the use of the credit card, then suggested the employee ask the Thai masseuse to reverse the transactions the next day and “pay cash instead” to remove it from the credit card, in keeping with the network’s expense policies.

Mr Jackson, who was appointed as the NSW Police commissioner Karen Webb’s new spin doctor before the contract was scrapped, suggested to the employee at the time the masseuse be paid “a bonus” of $250 to facilitate the different payment method.

During the text exchange, Mr Jackson provided the Seven employee with a Google translation of how to tell the worker in Thai: “I pay you cash instead.”

Defamation threat

After the story broke last month, Mr Lehrmann then told The Australian newspaper that he was in Sydney and did meet with Seven producers on the night in question, but insisted any suggestion he got a massage was “untrue”.

“It’s an untrue and bizarre story from a disgruntled ex-­Network Seven producer,” he said. “Network Seven has only ever covered reasonable travel for filming and accommodation.”

Those comments prompted Mr Auerbach to seek legal advice.

The legal salvo, first revealed by The Sydney Morning Herald, is detailed in a concerns notice sent that complains “false” statements have been made regarding Mr Auerbach.

“The press statement is likely to devastate Mr Auerbach’s professional reputation,” Ms Giles said.

She continued that Mr Lehrmann’s press statement conveyed a defamatory imputation that “Taylor Auerbach lied to the press about Bruce Lehrmann being bought a massage by a Seven Network employee.”

December, Spotlight travels to Tasmania

Mr Auerbach claims in the affidavit that shortly after the Cipri Italian dinner and the after-party at Elizabeth Bay, in the city’s east, where Thai masseuses were called, on November 25, 2022, that he was sent to Tasmania by Seven to play golf with Mr Lehrmann as the network sought to seal the deal.

At the time, Spotlight was desperately trying to secure the story and 60 Minutes – which refused to pay for the interview – was also chasing a sit-down with the man accused of raping Brittany Higgins.

Mr Lehrmann pleaded not guilty to that charge and maintains his innocence. The trial was aborted due to juror misconduct and the charge was later withdrawn following concerns over Ms Higgins’ mental health.

Photocopier claims

The affidavit also includes claims of what Mr Auerbach claims happened in the Seven newsroom with a photocopier after a dinner at Spice Temple involving Mr Lehrmann.

During the lead up to Mr Lehrmann signing on the dotted line with Seven, Mr Auerbach will testify he went to Channel 7 and photocopied material with Mr Lehrmann at the request of the Spotlight executive producer, who was unaware that he was also partying with Mr Lehrmann with sex workers.

In his application to reopen the trial last night, Dr Collins told the court that Mr Auerbach’s evidence suggested Mr Lehrmann leaked material to Spotlight, in contradiction to evidence Mr Lehrmann gave earlier to the defamation trial.

This, he argued, was “an abuse of process.”

“In the lead up to this defamation trial and after the criminal proceedings had terminated Mr Lehrmann, chose to go on national television,’’ he said.

“He told a series of falsehoods to a national audience on Spotlight.

“It is in our submission, the definition of an abuse of process.”

He pointed to Mr Lehrmann’s own words on June 4, 2023, in the first Spotlight program that went to air.

The program included hundreds of hours of CCTV material, audio of police interviews never released during the trial.

“Plainly enough, there was other material also in a certain network’s possession,’’ he said.

During that interview, Mr Lehrmann said: “Beware the man with nothing to lose.”

“Everything needs to be out there in the open,’’ he said.

The program ended with Mr Lehrmann predicting there was “more to come”.

Man in the mirror

In the lead-up to securing the exclusive in early 2023, Spotlight arranged accommodation for Mr Lehrmann in an apartment in Randwick.

The Auerbach affidavit claims that during that period of time the accommodation was booked in the producer’s name on a Seven credit card.

In a stunning submission, Lisa Wilkinson’s barrister Sue Chrysanthou told the court that a photograph would show the executive producer of the Spotlight program in the reflection of a laptop.

The image will show, she told the court, the Spotlight executive producer Mark Llewellyn’s face captured in the reflection taking photographs of Ms Higgins text exchanges in a conversation with Lisa Wilkinson’s husband Peter Fitzimmons.

Channel Ten’s barrister indicated that if Justice Lee decides to reopen the case it is its intention to call Auerbach to give evidence.

Lisa Wilkinson’s barrister, Sue Chrysanthou, indicated that Auerbach was flying back to Australia from New Zealand in anticipation of if he is called to give

“We would propose to call Mr. Auerbach,’’ Dr Collins said.

“He would need to be exposed to cross examination.”

Lehrmann’s legal team responds: ‘Lipstick on a pig’

Earlier, Dr Collins accused Mr Lehrmann of an “outrageous contempt of court” when leaking confidential information to Seven.

Dr Collins told the Federal Court he had intentionally tried to undermine the credit of witnesses in the defamation case.

But Mr Lehrmann’s barrister Matthew Richardson SC raised a number of problems with the affidavit and the arguments put by Channel Ten to reopen the case.

“And what I want to say now is it’s really lipstick on a pig one way or another,’’ Matthew Richardson SC said.

“This is an allegation about an applicant, breaching his Harman undertaking by providing documents to the media and lying about it.

“That’s the substance of what is being argued.”

Justice Lee then interjected, “it’s a bit more than that.”

“It’s also not playing with a straight bat,’’ Justice Lee said.

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