Police drop defamation action against Shane Drumgold over his complaint about their handling of Lehrmann case

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Kristin Shorten
The Nightly
A group of AFP officers have dropped their defamation case against former ACT Director of Public Prosecutions Shane Drumgold.
A group of AFP officers have dropped their defamation case against former ACT Director of Public Prosecutions Shane Drumgold. Credit: LC/AAPIMAGE

A group of Australian Federal Police officers who were seeking millions in damages have dropped their defamation case against former ACT Director of Public Prosecutions Shane Drumgold SC and have been ordered to pay his legal costs.

A Federal Court order, filed on Tuesday, states that the civil case has been “dismissed by consent”.

The court ordered that the application filed on April 26 be dismissed and that the five officers pay Mr Drumgold’s costs of $12,500.

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The applicants in the case were police officers Marcus Boorman, Scott Moller, Michael Chew, Trent Madders and Emma Frizzell.

The respondents were the ACT Government and its former top prosecutor Mr Drumgold.

The officers had claimed that Mr Drumgold defamed them in a written complaint about their conduct during the investigation of Brittany Higgins’ rape complaint against Bruce Lehrmann and the defendant’s subsequent prosecution.

Ms Higgins accused Mr Lehrmann of sexually assaulting her in Linda Reynolds’ ministerial suite at Parliament House in 2019.

As the Territory’s DPP, Mr Drumgold personally prosecuted Mr Lehrmann at his trial in October 2022.

After the trial was sensationally abandoned, due to juror misconduct while deliberating, Mr Drumgold decided not to retry the case due to concerns about Ms Higgins’ mental health.

In November 2022, Mr Drumgold wrote to then-ACT police chief Neil Gaughan complaining about his officers’ handling of the case.

Mr Drumgold claimed that the officers had engaged in “a very clear campaign to pressure” him not to prosecute Mr Lehrmann.

He said there was “inappropriate interference” and he felt investigators were “clearly aligned with the successful defence of this matter” during the trial.

In early December 2022, Mr Drumgold provided an unredacted copy of the letter to The Guardian, in response to a Freedom of Information application, and the outlet published its contents.

The police officers alleged that in doing this, Mr Drumgold acted “maliciously” and did not give “proper consideration to the (officers’) human rights”, according to court documents.

The statement of claim alleged that Mr Drumgold did not consult with the AFP or each of the five officers “as relevant third parties” before releasing the letter to The Guardian and that he had been obliged to do so.

The five officers launched their legal action against the ACT Government and Mr Drumgold on April 26, claiming Mr Drumgold’s letter to Mr Gaughan, and republished to The Guardian, defamed them.

The officers had alleged that the letter, its publication in The Guardian, and the subsequent public board of inquiry into the ACT criminal justice system – sparked by the letter – had exposed them to potentially “serious reputational harm”.

The officers claimed the ACT Government was also “vicariously liable” because of Mr Drumgold’s “misfeasance in public office”.

The originating application filed with the court in April stated that the applicants sought damages for defamation or misfeasance in public office (or both) against the first or second respondent (or both).

They sought a declaration that the letter published on November 1, 2022 was defamatory of each of the five police officers and a declaration that Mr Drumgold’s decision to release the letter to the Guardian five weeks later, purportedly under the FOI Act, was invalid or unlawful.

The five police officers all made claims for differing amounts of damages that totalled about $1.415m. They also sought costs.

The Nightly contacted solicitor for the applicants, Calvin Gnech, on Wednesday. Mr Gnech, managing director and principal lawyer of Brisbane law firm Gnech and Associates, said his clients declined to comment on the reason for withdrawing their claim.

Mr Drumgold’s legal representatives did not respond to a request for comment.

The Nightly understands that some of the five police officers who lodged the claim have left the force since last year’s Board of Inquiry, which was chaired by former Queensland Solicitor-General and retired Supreme Court judge Walter Sofronoff KC.

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