‘Puppet master’: Spotlight on Brittany Higgins’ partner David Sharaz

Bruce Lehrmann described Brittany Higgins’ fiance David Sharaz as a “puppet master” who conspired to use his girlfriend’s rape allegation to take down the government of former prime minister Scott Morrison.

Around about the time he sat down for his first paid interview with Channel 7, Mr Lehrmann reflected that Mr Sharaz’s leaked text messages suggested he wanted to “take down the Liberal Party in some respects”.

“I think he’s probably now riding the wave of Higgins’s fame that he got,” Mr Lehrmann said.

“He just keeps injecting himself into it.”

Puppet master or hapless boyfriend?

Mr Lehrmann pointed to the acid observations of AFP Constable Emma Frizzell in the Sofronoff inquiry.

“I believe (the media) was a tool driven by Ms Higgins and Mr Sharaz, which is evident by the first engagement I had with them, whereby Ms Higgins advised she wished to see how the media played out prior to providing a statement,” she said.

Mr Lehrmann claimed Constable Frizzell’s evidence was indicative of Mr Sharaz “being the puppet master, essentially”.

But who really is pulling the strings in this never-ending saga?

And is Mr Sharaz as influential behind the scenes that so many people who have never met him seem to believe?

Those closest to MrSharaz regard him as a sort of hapless, bumbling boyfriend who pays too much attention to social media.

He is motivated, they insist by righteous outrage over what he believed happened to his new girlfriend.

“Bloody David,” is more likely to be the refrain in Ms Higgins inner-circle than anyone taking orders from the man who started his career as a Sunrise cash cow.

But that benign self-image is being weighed by Justice Michael Lee against a mountain of text messages, audio recordings and emails that suggest Mr Sharaz was angry about some government ministers and keen to insert himself into the fray.

A five-hour recording with The Project, played to the court during Mr Lehrmann’s defamation trial, suggests he also made fun of Anthony Albanese’s car accident and suggested that Bob Hawke’s death reminded people Bill Shorten wasn’t up to it.

“I think it was Bob Hawke who reminded us that Bill Shorten was no Bob Hawke,” he said.

“F**k you Bob,’’ he laughed.

Sharaz’ birth and adoption

David Vaughan Sharaz was born in 1991, in Wrexham, north Wales, to a Welsh mother and Indian father.

By coincidence, he was adopted by a Welsh mother Jean and an Indian father Mo, who lived in Australia.

“It’s no secret that adoptive children suffer from identity issues and things like that,” Mr Sharaz told The Canberra Times in 2018 for RUOK Day.

“I thought by losing a whole bunch of weight, I’d like myself. Nope. Dropping down to 65kg didn’t work, so I turned to alcohol to numb the pain.

“It was easy to disguise. I mean, I was at university and everyone around me was drinking.

“I’d convinced myself that not only did I hate myself, but even complete strangers had cottoned on, and were passing judgement on everything I did.

“I was certain the world hated me nearly as much as I loathed myself.”

He was interested in TV and journalism.

Sharaz’ work experience with Lisa Wilkinson

Mr Sharaz worked hard to build contacts.

He worked in breakfast radio in Canberra and in the press gallery for SBS.

He married a Labor staffer Alexandra Craig. Labor’s Katy Gallagher was invited but did not attend.

He worked at Sky News and secured Peta Credlin’s email too, who he later leaned on for advice when the story first broke.

Much earlier, he applied and was accepted to do work experience on the Today Show.

There, he met Lisa Wilkinson, the queen of breakfast television in Australia.

Mr Sharaz had secured the work experience spot by guessing broadcaster Ben Fordham’s email address and asking him to email the executive producer.

The executive producer wrote back and he drove that night from Canberra to the Today show.

“Lisa was the only one that was nice to me,’’ he later said.

And that is how, years later, Mr Sharaz came to have Ms Wilkinson’s email to contact about Brittany Higgins’ story.

When the story broke, Ms Higgins told the Federal Court that overwhelmed and having taken Valium she got Mr Sharaz to send out a “timeline” document to “half the press gallery”.

It’s a decision they both regret, she said. She also conceded that she sent the document to some journalists herself.

Soon, Mr Sharaz was groaning in numbers and emails of people who wanted to contact Brittany – Kevin Rudd, Malcolm Turnbull and his wife Lucy, he tried to set up a chat with former Australian of the Year Rosie Batty.

After The Project aired, leaked text messages show Mr Sharaz contacted Ms Higgins asking if she was “getting spotted” and recognised.

She was getting spotted.

According to the evidence at the defamation trial, at times she “cut out” her own mum.

She was trailed by paparazzi photographers who even captured her engagement to Mr Sharaz at the top of the Byron Bay Lighthouse.

Facebook posts blow lid on French getaway

More recently, his Facebook posts unwittingly blew the lid on the couple’s secret getaway plan for a home in the French countryside.

On October 2, Mr Sharaz posted in a public Facebook group for English-speaking residents.

“Hello, I’m looking for someone to do some gardening for us over the next couple of months. Perhaps once or twice a fortnight. We’re in Lunas,” he wrote.

About a month later, on November 5, he was looking to improve his French language skills.

“Hello! I’m hoping to start to learn the language and while my plan of using French movies with subtitles might work over a decade, I’m looking to speed it up!” he wrote.

“Does anyone know any good French tutors?”

Way back when the police came knocking to interview Ms Higgins over the alleged rape in 2021, the Sofronoff inquiry was later told he flew into action.

Detective complained of feeling threatened

A detective who investigated Ms Higgins’ rape allegation complained he “didn’t like being threatened” after a phone call with Mr Sharaz.

The inquiry heard evidence from Detective Superintendent Scott Moller that shortly after Mr Sharaz’s phone call to Detective Inspector Marcus Boorman, the ¬instructions were delivered to charge Bruce Lehrmann.

He said Mr Sharaz threatened to go public with complaints over the speed of the rape investigation and sent emails to the detective investigating the case and the Victims of Crime Commissioner Heidi Yates.

“I was copied into an email from Mr Sharaz to Mr Boorman and Mr Moller confirming Miss Higgins’ desire to have the process resolved as soon as possible,’’ Ms Yates said.

“I then received a missed call from Mr Boorman at 2.39pm and a text message from him at 2.41pm asking me to call him. I then called him.

“It was my recollection that Mr Boorman was upset and said to me, words to the effect of ‘I don’t like being threatened’”.

The inquiry has previously heard evidence that Mr Sharaz on July 29, 2021, sent an email marked “Subject: News Story”.

Judge questions Sharaz’s role

At the conclusion of Ms Wilkinson’s two-day cross examination, Justice Lee said he wanted to clarify some issues surrounding Mr Sharaz, who is not a witness at the trial.

“You gave some evidence yesterday that you are acutely aware when you’re speaking to survivors of sexual assault, who are speaking about their own sexual assault, they are very difficult conversations,” Justice Lee said.

“I take it that that’s because you perceive through your accumulated experience … such people are especially vulnerable?

“Would you accept that you have to be especially careful to make sure people in the situation of vulnerability are not being manipulated?”

“Yes,” Ms Wilkinson replied.

Justice Lee then turned to how The Project was communicating with Ms Higgins.

“Now, did you also recall the evidence of (Network 10 producer Angus) Llewellyn that he was using Mr Sharaz as a conduit for communications with Ms Higgins?”

“Yes,” Ms Wilkinson replied.

Justice Lee asked Ms Wilkinson if she effectively left it to Mr Llewellyn to deal with Ms Higgins.

“Speaking of your own view at the time, do you think it was a good idea to use someone like Mr Sharaz as a conduit for communications with Ms Higgins rather than deal with Ms Higgins directly to the extent that he was being used as a conduit,” Justice Lee asked.

“My preference was for Ms Higgins to be the main contact,” Ms Wilkinson said.

Justice Lee then asked a series of questions about whether she regarded herself as a friend of Mr Sharaz.

“Now as of January 2021, were you someone who was a good friend of David Sharaz?” he asked.

“No, I wouldn’t say that,” she replied.

“Would it be wrong for him to refer to you as a good friend? As of January 2021?” Justice Lee asked.

“Yes,” Ms Wilkinson said.

“Were you on terms of familiarity with him whereby it was consistent with the nature of your relationship for him to adopt the salutation ‘much love’ when he was communicating with you, as of January 2021?” he asked.

Ms Wilkinson said she had not noticed the salutation on the email previously.

“Do you think that’s odd?” Justice Lee said.

“Yeah. I hadn’t had contact with him,” she replied.

Ms Wilkinson then attempted to add to her answer. “Can I just add a significant fact?”

“No,” barrister Ms Chrysanthou said.

Ms Wilkinson tried to add that she had only met Mr Sharaz “once”.

After the defamation trial is over, Mr Sharaz is facing another legal battle in Western Australia.

The Liberal senator Linda Reynolds is pursuing an apology and damages from Mr Sharaz, claiming he made “inaccurate and professionally damaging” criticisms of her online.

The case is set down for mediation next year.

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