Court testimony from a Colombian-born cleaner sent to clean Linda Reynolds’ parliamentary office within hours of Brittany Higgins’ rape allegations has poured cold water on persistent rumors of an alleged ‘steam clean’ cover-up.
Carlos Ramos was asked to clean Senator Reynolds’ office on March 23, 2019, after parliamentary security staff officers alerted a Finance Department official that two staffers had entered the office and found Ms. Higgins sleeping on the couch.
Ms Higgins did not publicly allege an assault until much later and an investigation by the former Inspector-General of Intelligence and Security Vivienne Thom and the Federal Police found there was no reason to suspect one at the time.
Late-night drinking in parliamentary offices, however, is not uncommon in Canberra and special cleaning is sometimes ordered to ensure MPs do not reach any party remnants.
When Mr. Ramos arrived to clean, expecting two hours or more of work, he found the room so tidy that he called his boss who then reached out to security staff to make sure they had the right room.
Brittany Higgins (pictured) was allegedly raped in then Defense Minister Linda Reynolds’ office at Parliament House in 2019.
A court heard it is not unusual for ministers to clean out offices if staff have been drinking the night before so they don’t end up in a mess (pictured, Senator Linda Reynolds).
‘In my opinion this look is normal cleanliness,’ Ramos, whose first language is Spanish, told the ACT Supreme Court he told his supervisor.
Ramos testified on October 11 last year that he had already spent 30 minutes cleaning the clean room regularly, a fact that Australian newspaper columnist Janet Albrechtsen ignored by the media.
Her testimony was lost among the many documents that eventually became available when a suppression order was lifted.
The order was issued until Ms Higgins had completed her cross-examination, which was fragmented due to mental health breaks.
Asked by prosecutor Shane Drumgold if he cleaned the couch where Higgins allegedly raped her, Ramos said he wiped it with a leather cleaning product.
‘You wiped it (the couch) with a chemical on a cloth?’ asked Drumgold.
Ramos: ‘Yes, yes.’
During cross-examination, Ramos told defense barrister Katrina Musgrove that: ‘It was completely routine cleaning.’
Her testimony refutes claims that the couch in Ms. Reynolds’ office was thoroughly cleaned within hours of the alleged sexual assault.
The cleaner at Parliament House said she had wiped the couch with leather cleaner and a cloth but it had not been steam cleaned (pictured is Mrs Reynolds’ then office in Parliament House)
The Steam Clean claim suggests that the scene may have been ‘interfered’ with articles published that broke the story and repeated numerous times.
Ms Albrechtsen noted that the claim came from a diary note by Australian Federal Police National Security Deputy Commissioner Leanne Close, about a conversation she had with AFP Assistant Commissioner Lesa Gale.
The note states that Gale told him that ‘the office staff had steam cleaned the lounge’.
The claim was repeated a few months later in an anonymous letter addressed to the late Senator Kimberling Kitching.
In his cross-examination, Mr Ramos was also asked if he needed to clean the bathroom where Ms Higgins said she had vomited.
‘Not really… like the bathroom hasn’t been used recently.’
He said no towels appeared to have been used, the toilet was not dirty and there was no smell.
‘Didn’t the toilet seat need to be cleaned?’ Musgrove asked.
‘No,’ he replied.
CCTV footage showed Ms Higgins walking past Parliament House security on the night she alleged she was raped in Ms Reynolds’ parliamentary office.
The ACT’s director of public prosecutions Shane Drumgold, who handled Higgins’ case, is on leave until August 30.
Anthony Williamson SC is playing the role.
ACT Chief Minister Andrew Barr is awaiting a report following an independent inquiry into how the legal system handled the criminal trial of Bruce Lehrman.
Mr. Lehrman was accused of raping Ms. Higgins in Ms. Reynolds’ office. He has always denied the allegations.
The independent inquiry was led by former Queensland Supreme Court Justice Walter Sofronoff.
Prosecutors dropped charges against Mr. Lehrman over concerns about the impact of the second trial on Ms. Higgins’ mental health after the first trial was suspended due to juror misconduct.
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