Cops ‘botched’ Jeffrey Brooks death probe
THE shooting death of scientist Jeffrey Brooks was no accident and the case was botched by police, according to an explosive insurance investigation.
The shock findings of an investigation commissioned by WorkCover, not made public until now, have been uncovered in The Courier-Mail's expose of the bizarre tragedy that has haunted the dead man's family and friends for more than 22 years.
The private investigators have detailed how police were "suspicious of us'' and that evidence they were shown from the case file was lost.
Detectives determined that Jeffrey Brooks, 24, an experienced shooter, accidentally shot himself with an old shotgun he was alleged to have been using to scare away cormorants at the Beenleigh Crayfish Farm on March 13, 1996.
They believed the aquaculturist was fatally shot through the chest when he reached into a vehicle and pulled the firearm towards himself - barrel first - and the hammer caught on the seat, causing the gun to fire.
Jeffrey's parents Lawrie and Wendy want the inquest into his death - which delivered an open finding - to be reopened to help the family find peace.
Their cause has been boosted by the findings of an independent investigation conducted at the request of State Government-owned statutory body WorkCover.
This was launched a few years after the tragedy, when Jeffrey's wife Nicole sought compensation over the "accidental'' workplace death.
However, WorkCover accepted the investigation finding that Jeffrey's death was a crime, and the widow was instead given an ex-gratia payment.
The crayfish farm was shut down by the devastated owners soon after Jeffrey's death.
The lead private investigator, Dennis Walker, who then ran a firm called Allchin Walker, has come forward after the release of The Courier-Mail's true crime podcast, Dead Wrong.
Mr Walker, an investigator of 40 years, said he had been disgusted by "basic errors'' made by police, which had "stuck in my craw for years and years''.
"We investigated the circumstances surrounding the death to consider the implications for WorkCover in terms of their policy. It was a very thorough investigation, quite a few months, and we looked at it with an open mind, which is exactly what the police should have done,'' he said.
"We discovered he (Jeffrey) was concerned for his safety. All three at the farm had tried to make it so uncomfortable and nasty for him that he would be unable to stay. But he hung in there.
"He had refused to use the firearm (that police ruled caused his death). It was a piece of s--t. He simply would not have taken it out with him in the car. If he was going to use a gun, he had his own one that worked properly and was safe.
"We had our own forensic testing done with an identical gun and, with the help of people in Victoria who had access to the shotgun library down there, what they found was that the victim's wound could only be replicated at a firing distance of two arms' lengths (1.25m) - too far for Jeffrey to have been holding the weapon.''
Mr Walker said he completed his investigation with the assistance of a respected former Victorian detective who had moved to Queensland.
Mr Walker said basic police errors included that no gun shot residue tests had been done on the victim's hands, even though they had been bagged; the shotgun was not properly examined or tested; the alibis of those at or near the property were not fully explored; and possible motives linked to threats, animosity and theft were discounted.
The investigators said the farm manager had told police he had been shopping on the afternoon of Jeffrey's death, but police had not checked the veracity the claim. There was a shopping docket with the date and time ripped off.
Mr Walker said police had not liked the investigators "kicking around'' the case.
He said his co-investigator had been granted a look at the file and applied for copies of the crime scene and autopsy photographs and negatives.
"The property officer, just erring on the side of caution, said 'I'll just check that's okay and we'll see what we can arrange.
"A few days later, we received a call from this same guy who was in quite a state and he said 'mate, they're gone, they're not on the file anymore'.''
The private investigators said photographs taken in an autopsy that showed Jeffrey's wound were among the "missing" photos and negatives.
Jeffrey's parents also were unable to gain access to these images and The Courier-Mail has been told by the Office of the State Coroner that they are not in the brief of evidence relating to the case.
Mr Walker said their findings, which made it clear they believed Jeffrey's death had not been an accident, were given to WorkCover's solicitors. He said a short time later he was summoned by WorkCover and concerns were put to him about his critique of the police investigation.
"We were interrogated about the whole thing and it was made very clear to us that we couldn't go around making allegations like this against Queensland Police in an open report. They were upset we had come up with these findings, but we just reported what we believed was the truth," he said.
"They were uncomfortable with the whole thing … they didn't want it in their lap.''
Mr Walker said he was not asked to change the report and it was accepted by WorkCover.
The Courier-Mail made a Right to Information application for access to the report findings held by WorkCover Queensland.
WorkCover confirmed there were 168 pages of investigation reports and documents and 38 pages of letters and emails relating to the case. However, it refused access due to legal sensitivities.
The Courier-Mail then applied to the Office of the Information Commissioner for an external review of the decision.
The OIC looked at the material and found it was protected by legal professional privilege and could not be handed over. This comes under the part of the law that protects release of confidential information passed between legal adviser and client.
The OIC said it was not able to consider public interest factors, "no matter how compelling''.
The State Coroner may be able to obtain the documents under his special powers.