Bruce Lehrmann defamation trial: Taylor Auerbach tells court of Spotlight interview demand

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Former Seven producer Taylor Auerbach has told a court Bruce Lehrmann had one demand ahead of an exclusive interview – he would only partake if he wasn’t asked about “what happened on the night in Canberra”.

Mr Auerbach on Thursday strode into the Federal Court after becoming a surprise witness in Mr Lehrmann’s defamation battle with Network 10 and journalist Lisa Wilkinson.

Thursday was supposed to be D-Day for Mr Lehrmann, and Justice Michael Lee was scheduled to hand down his highly-awaited judgment.

However in an 11th-hour twist, Network 10 was granted leave to reopen its case to hear fresh evidence from Mr Auerbach, who was involved in securing Mr Lehrmann for two interviews with Seven’s Spotlight.

“WARPATH”

Mr Auerbach told the court on Thursday that when Mr Lehrmann travelled to Sydney in January 2023, he was assigned to be his “babysitter”.

At the time, Channel 7 put Mr Lehrmann up at the Meriton Hotel.

“I had been reappointed to be his babysitter, minder, looking after him … building up a rapport trying to build trust and some sort of relationship with a prospective interview subject,” Mr Auerbach told the court.

He said that while at dinner Mr Lehrmann purchased drugs and later ordered prostitutes.

”Mr Lehrmann had over dinner purchased a bag of cocaine while we were dining at Franca,” Mr Auerbach said.

“And when we got upstairs to the room he pulled that out and started to put it on a plate and then started talking to me about a prospective Spotlight story and his desire to order prostitutes to the Meriton that night.

“And he began googling a series of websites to try and make that happen.

“And during that conversation he agreed to be in a Spotlight interview as long as we didn’t ask him about what happened on the night in Canberra.”

Mr Auerbach said he was “taken aback” and tried to convince Mr Lehrmann to discuss the night of the alleged rape during the interview.

“It jumped out at me as quite concerning so I put it to him that we would have to ask him hard questions about the night in Canberra,” Mr Auerbach said.

He said he texted his boss, Spotlight producer Steve Jackson, telling him: “Bruce was on the warpath again and that it was no anomaly.”

“I think I used … if you don’t mind me swearing your honour… I think I used the words ‘this is f***ed’,” Mr Auerbach said.

In his affidavit, Mr Auerbach said money paid by Mr Lehrmann for illicit drugs and prostitutes that night was later reimbursed to him by Seven in “per diems”.

In a statement Seven said allegations Mr Lehrmann issued invoices to Seven covering costs for illegal drug use and prostitutes was “completely false”.

MORTIFIED AND ASHAMED

Mr Auerbach told the court that he was “mortified” and “ashamed” after charging thousands of dollars worth of Thai massages to his corporate credit card and offered to quit his post at Spotlight.

In his affidavit, Mr Auerbach alleged that he had evidence of receipts paid by Seven for Mr Lehrmann’s benefit, including $10,000 worth of Thai massages.

Mr Lehrmann has previously denied receiving a massage.

The court heard that the following day Mr Auerbach tendered his resignation to his bosses.

“You were so mortified and ashamed by what you had done you resigned the next day,” Mr Lehrmann’s barrister Matthew Richardson said.

“Correct,” Mr Auerbach said.

He wrote in a letter to his employer that morning: “Last night, and early this morning in a drunken daze, I put thousands upon thousands of charges on a corporate card that had nothing to do with work.”

Mr Auerbach in court on Thursday denied that the charges had “nothing to do with work”.

“I want to suggest to you the motive (for making the allegations in his affidavit) was to humiliate Mr Lehrmann, do you agree or disagree,”

“No, that’s wrong,” Mr Auerbach said.

In a statement, a Seven spokesperson said: “The person involved admitted to the misuse of a Seven corporate card and all unauthorised expenses were immediately reimbursed.”

30 DRINKS A DAY

Under cross examination from Mr Richardson, Mr Auerbach was on Thursday grilled about his exit from Sky News.

In his affidavit, Mr Auerbach claimed that he was sacked because of media reports that he had misused his Seven corporate credit card.

He denied that he had been sacked because he had sent a picture of a topless woman to journalists.

Asked if he knew the woman was in a vulnerable state at the time, Mr Auerbach replied: “No sir”.

He told the court that he did not have the woman’s consent to send the photos.

When asked if he was aware it was a “criminal act to send photos of this kind without consent”, Mr Auerbach said: “No.”

Mr Auerbach, in one of three affidavits tendered to the court, said Mr Lehrmann provided him with documents including the AFP “statement of facts” from Mr Lehrmann’s criminal trial and Brittany Higgins’ texts with her former boyfriend.

However Mr Lehrmann’s lawyers have called Mr Auerbach’s reliability into question.

Mr Richardson pointed to notes made by his psychologist that he had reported cutting back his drinking early in 2023 from 140 standard drinks a week and less than 30 standard drinks a day.

“I want to suggest to you Mr Auerbach that your recollection of anything that happened in November or December 2022 is suspect,” Mr Richardson asked.

“I disagree,” Mr Auerbach said.

Mr Auerbach will return to the witness box on Friday.