Judge criticizes Channel 10 over Lisa Wilkinson’s Logies speech, The Project repeats mistake shortly after

Judge criticizes Channel 10 over Lisa Wilkinson’s Logies speech, The Project repeats mistake shortly after

The Project host Sarah Harris introduced a guest whose alleged rapist was acquitted of sexual assault as a ‘rape survivor’, just hours after Network Ten was slammed over Lisa Wilkinson’s infamous Logies speech.

The guest was victims’ advocate Saxon Mullins and her accused attacker, Luke Lazarus, was found not guilty seven years ago of having had sexual intercourse with her without consent.

Bruce Lehrmann’s trial for raping Brittany Higgins was delayed for three months when Wilkinson praised the then-alleged victim’s courage at the Logies before he had faced a jury.

His trial trial was ultimately aborted due to juror misconduct but Federal Court judge Michael Lee found on Monday afternoon Lehrmann had raped Ms Higgins.

Justice Lee also condemned Ten for ‘grossly improper’ conduct in relation to Wilkinson’s Logies grandstanding, which he said she should have known was ‘fraught with danger’.   

He said Ten’s senior litigation counsel Tasha Smithies should have been aware of potential legal issues when giving Wilkinson advice about the speech. 

The Project led its episode on Monday evening with news of the Federal Court defamation judgement in which Justice Lee found against Lehrmann.

While Justice Lee ruled in favour of Ten, he was critical of Wilkinson’s February 2021 interview with Ms Higgins on The Project, finding the program had failed to properly investigate inconsistencies in her version of events.

He criticised The Project for failing to question the motives of Ms Higgins’s fiance David Sharaz for encouraging Ms Higgins to come forward, and for not doing enough to contact Lehrmann. 

Lehrmann had claimed he was defamed by Ten and Wilkinson when Ms Higgins said in The Project interview she was raped in Parliament House in March 2019.

Ms Higgins did not name Lehrmann – who had not yet been charged with rape – but he said he could be identified by what was said.

Judge criticizes Channel 10 over Lisa Wilkinson’s Logies speech, The Project repeats mistake shortly after

The Project host Sarah Harris introduced a guest whose alleged attacker was acquitted of sexual assault as a ‘rape survivor’, just hours after Network Ten was slammed over Lisa Wilkinson’s infamous Logies speech

On Monday night, The Project panel spoke to lawyer Justin Quill, who acted for Ten, and said the network had secured a ‘big win’. 

Host Sarah Harris then introduced Saxon Mullins from Rape and Sexual Assault Research and Advocacy (RASARA) to discuss Justice Lee’s decision. 

‘Saxon Mullins is a rape survivor, and victims’ advocate,’ Harris said, without any explanation that Ms Mullins’ accused rapist had been acquitted.

‘It must have been particularly triggering for you – you had to go through that justice system after an assault – what was that like?’ Harris said.

Ms Mullins was 18 when she accused 21-year-old Luke Lazarus, son of multimillionaire hotelier Andrew Lazarus, of raping her in an alley behind his father’s Soho night club at Kings Cross in May 2013.

Mr Lazarus was found guilty 2015 of raping Ms Mullins and spent 11 months in jail but was granted a retrial and acquitted in 2017 by a NSW District Court judge sitting without a jury.

Sarah Harris described victims' advocate Saxon Mullins as a 'rape survivor' (above). Ms Mullins's accused rapist, Luke Lazarus, was cleared seven years ago of having had sexual intercourse with her without consent.

Sarah Harris described victims’ advocate Saxon Mullins as a ‘rape survivor’ (above). Ms Mullins’s accused rapist, Luke Lazarus, was cleared seven years ago of having had sexual intercourse with her without consent.

Judge Robyn Tupman found while Ms Saxon did not consent to anal intercourse, there was no evidence to find Lazarus knew she was not consenting, or was reckless. 

‘I have come to the determination that the Crown has not established that there were no reasonable grounds for believing the complainant was not consenting,’ she said. 

Ms Mullins remained anonymous throughout the legal process but allowed herself to be identified in a Four Corners episode titled I Am That Girl which aired in May, 2018. 

Nine days after Ms Higgins told her story, Mr Lazarus rang 2GB’s Ben Fordham to defend himself. 

In that interview Mr Lazarus said he believed Ms Mullins had ‘wanted to be there’ when he had anal sex with the virgin, four minutes after meeting her.

There had never been any dispute that Mr Lazarus had sex with Ms Mullins; the only issue was whether or not she gave consent.

Ms Mullins, whose biography on the RASARA website refers to ‘her 2013 sexual assault’, said she asked Mr Lazarus to stop. He said she didn’t.

Saxon Mullins was 18 when she accused Luke Lazarus, son of Soho night club owner Andrew Lazarus, of raping her in an alley behind the Kings Cross venue in May 2013. Mr Lazarus is pictured outside court in 2017

Saxon Mullins was 18 when she accused Luke Lazarus, son of Soho night club owner Andrew Lazarus, of raping her in an alley behind the Kings Cross venue in May 2013. Mr Lazarus is pictured outside court in 2017

‘It’s been found [that] my belief she was consenting was a reasonable one,’ Mr Lazarus told Fordham.

‘I think this whole night’s regrettable. At the end of the day I’ve been found innocent. [Accused persons acquitted of crimes are not ‘found innocent’].

Network Ten did not respond to a request for comment. Daily Mail Australia attempted to contact Mr Lazarus at this workplace. 

Ms Mullins appeared alongside Ms Higgins and Wilkinson at the March 4 Justice rally outside Parliament House in March 2021. 

Wilkinson delivered her Logies speech in June 2022 when she accepted a statuette for Most Outstanding News Coverage or Public Affairs for the Higgins interview.

‘Brittany Higgins was a political problem,’ Wilkinson had said. ‘And governments tend to like political problems to go away. But Brittany never did.

‘And the truth is, this honour belongs to Brittany. It belongs to a 26-year-old woman’s unwavering courage.

Mr Lazarus was found guilty 2015 of raping Ms Mullins and spent 11 months in prison but was granted a retrial and acquitted in 2017 by a NSW District Court judge sitting without a jury. Mr Lazarus and Ms Mullins are pictured in CCTV footage

Mr Lazarus was found guilty 2015 of raping Ms Mullins and spent 11 months in prison but was granted a retrial and acquitted in 2017 by a NSW District Court judge sitting without a jury. Mr Lazarus and Ms Mullins are pictured in CCTV footage

‘Thank you for helping to change the national conversation. And on behalf of all of the generations of women to come, thank you, Brittany, for never giving up.’

That speech came eight days before Lehrmann’s rape trial in the ACT Supreme Court was set to commence. 

Chief Justice Lucy McCallum delayed the hearing because what Wilkinson had said ‘completely obliterated’ the distinction between an allegation and a finding of guilt.

Justice Lee found Ten’s conduct was ‘grossly improper and unjustifiable’ in encouraging Wilkinson to make the comments she did.

‘[Wilkinson] only came to give the speech as a result of being badly let down by those to whom she turned for advice and counsel,’ he said.

Justice Michael Lee also said as an experienced journalist Wilkinson should have known what she said at the Logies about Brittany Higgins was 'fraught with danger'. Wilkinson is pictured with her barrister Sue Chrysanthou SC

Justice Michael Lee also said as an experienced journalist Wilkinson should have known what she said at the Logies about Brittany Higgins was ‘fraught with danger’. Wilkinson is pictured with her barrister Sue Chrysanthou SC

‘I regret to say that the continuing lack of insight by Ms Smithies as to the inappropriateness of her conduct related to the speech reflects, in my view, a lack of proper appreciation of her professional obligations as a solicitor,’ he said.

Justice Lee also said Wilkinson should have known as an experienced journalist what she said at the Logies was ‘fraught with danger’.

Wilkinson had given the speech because she had become ‘inextricably intertwined with Ms Higgins’ and not because of pressure from Ten, he said.

Ms Mullins campaigned for changes to NSW rape legislation which resulted in laws requiring a person to do or say something to their partner to show they consent to sex. 

She was the recipient of the Australian Human Rights Commission’s 2018 Young Persons’ Human Rights Medal.

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