Shooting victim’s family demand new inquest
PARENTS of a young scientist killed in a farm shooting will ask the Attorney-General to help deliver justice after "one of the worst police investigations in Queensland history''.
Lawrie and Wendy Brooks, backed by new evidence uncovered by The Courier-Mail's Dead Wrong podcast series, believe their son Jeffrey's death was not an accident - the finding of detectives in the 1996 case.
Internationally-renowned forensic pathologists, an independent ballistics expert, and senior investigators commissioned by WorkCover are among those who have exposed major flaws in the police investigation.
With the help of prominent Sunshine Coast lawyer, Peter Boyce, who represented the family of Daniel Morcombe, Mr and Mrs Brooks have finalised a submission they hope will reveal the truth.
This will be submitted to Attorney-General Yvette D'Ath, urging her to press the State Coroner for a new inquest.
"We have suffered for 22 years after what would have to be one of the worst police investigations in Queensland history,'' Mr Brooks said.
"There was little to no forensic examination, alibis were not checked, farm phone records not obtained for eight months, neighbours not interviewed and no testing done to see if Jeffrey could have been holding the gun that killed him.
"When we complained we were threatened by police and vital evidence was destroyed or went missing. It was a complete shambles.''
Detectives found Jeffrey Brooks, 24, an experienced shooter, accidentally killed himself at the Beenleigh Crayfish Farm on March 13, 1996, when an old shotgun he dragged out of a farm ute - by the barrel - to scare away birds, went off.
They ignored a plea from the farm's co-owner Greg Milham - who phoned triple-0 immediately after hearing of the death - to "treat this as a homicide" because the victim had been threatened by co-workers.
They also ignored testimony presented to the Coroner that Jeffrey was so frightened of retribution from colleagues that he asked to borrow a shotgun from his brother for self defence.
In other evidence presented at the inquest, Jeffrey's best friend Paul Martin and former boss John Pick revealed Jeffrey had told them he had confronted his co-workers over their unauthorised cash sales of crayfish and feared for his life.
Coroner Trevor Anders delivered an open finding, unable to rule out murder or accident.
Mr Boyce said the submission to the Attorney-General would seek her support for a new inquest.
"The Coroner is the best person to examine what this new evidence now shows, and also to look at the adequacy or inadequacy of the level of investigation,'' Mr Boyce said. "We are confident that there is enough evidence to warrant a new look at the matter.''
A key element would be expert analysis by prominent US forensic pathologist, Dr Judy Melinek, who reviewed the case and found the angle of shot proposed by police didn't fit the evidence on the body.
Other cornerstones of the submission include:
● Findings of a major insurance investigation, commissioned and accepted by WorkCover, which concluded the death was not an accident and police had made a series of basic errors;
● Three sets of range-of-shot ballistics tests, including one commissioned by The Courier-Mail with a leading firm that works with the ADF, that concluded the 3cm wound on Jeffrey could only be replicated from 1.1m to 1.25m - well beyond his reach of 65cm;
● A new interview with the farm worker who found Jeffrey's body, who recanted the evidence he gave at the time in which he said he thought Jeffrey's death was an accident and he had earlier seen him using the old gun in question.
He now says he did not see Jeffrey with the gun, he now believes it was not an accident and that there may have been an attempt to "set him up'' as the likely focus of a police investigation. He denied having anything to do with his death;
● Advice from another leading forensic pathologist, Dr David Ranson, who indicated if the 24-year-old had been shot at a range of 50cm, as police believed, there should have been evidence of burn marks, soot and powder "tattooing'', which there wasn't;
● A report by former top cop-turned private investigator Warren Smithers, working for the farm owners, who uncovered large-scale unauthorised sales of crayfish at the property;
● A statement by farm sales manager Paul Stewart, who revealed that just over an hour before his death, Jeffrey made a chilling phone call to him, blurting, "I have found something … curiosity killed the cat'';
● And an interview with church leader, Al Eggins, who came forward after the podcast series to say he twice unsuccessfully tried to tell police about a conversation he had with Jeffrey weeks before he died, in which Jeffrey told him of his fear of being shot and about a "warning shot'' fired over his head.
Mr and Mrs Brooks said that after 22 years of emotional pain, no closure and lack of justice they had decided to try one more time and had approached The Courier-Mail for help.
They said Jeffrey's death had decimated their once close-knit and loving family, which was only now starting to recover.
"Unless you have been through a similar experience, no-one could ever understand the devastating effects of the loss a much-loved first-born son and brother, husband, grandson, cousin, nephew and mate, particularly under these circumstances.
"We've been living under a thunder cloud with no satisfaction of seeing justice done for our son. At the very least, Jeffrey deserves justice," they said.
"Thanks to the Dead Wrong investigation and the new evidence it has brought to light, we feel we now have the expert opinions that prove our original findings were correct.''