Embassy death: Guard tells of sniper rifle ‘horseplay’

 

THE only witness to the shooting death of an off-duty private security guard working at the Australian embassy in Baghdad had a habit of drinking alcohol then pointing his sniper rifle at his mates as part of horseplay, an inquiry has heard.

Giving evidence on the second day of a coronial inquiry into the death of Queensland man Chris Betts, who died aged 34 on May 12, 2016, security guard Ben Turner said there was an incident with colleague Sun McKay prior to Betts' death where he reprimanded McKay for horseplay with his high-powered rifle.

Rae and Colin Betts with a picture of their son Chris Betts and his wife Angela. Picture: John Wilson
Rae and Colin Betts with a picture of their son Chris Betts and his wife Angela. Picture: John Wilson

Mr McKay was the only witness to the death of Betts in the early hours of the morning in McKay's dorm room of the Australian embassy compound in Baghdad.

Mr Betts's death was initially reported as a suicide.

Betts was shot with McKay's Glock pistol, after the pair had been drinking alcohol and playing Call of Duty on an Xbox.

Mr Turner said the incident made him worry there could be a repeat of the death of Australian soldier Jacob Kovco who died in 2006 in Iraq when he was fatally wounded by a shot to the head from his own gun.

Mr Turner said colleague Sun McKay had pointed his M21 rifle at his chest, and two others, while it was equipped with a laser boresighter as a group of mates drank and "mucked around" in McKay's room.

"I said (to McKay) 'That's the most f***ing unprofessional thing I've ever seen".

"I stood up because I was agitated by it. Then he was pointing it at (Chris) Bettsy. Bettsy just looked at me and shrugged … and laughed a bit" Mr Turner said.

Rae and Colin Betts leave the Coroners Court in Brisbane where an inquiry is being held into the shooting death of their son Christopher Betts. Picture: Glenn Hunt
Rae and Colin Betts leave the Coroners Court in Brisbane where an inquiry is being held into the shooting death of their son Christopher Betts. Picture: Glenn Hunt

Mr Turner said he didn't feel he was going to be shot with a live round, because a boresight stops a gun from firing a bullet in the chamber.

Mr Turner said the next day he told Mr McKay he was unhappy.

"I was in Iraq when the (Jake) Kovco thing happened as well which was similar circumstances. It made me really uncomfortable, I said 'Mate that's how people get killed, just stop it, you are being an idiot'.

The next day Mr McKay apologised, Mr Turner said.

"He said: 'Yeah Yeah sorry man' and he never did it to me again".

During questioning by Sarah Lane, counsel assisting the coroner, Mr Turner testified that "some people said" McKay "was a bit crazy".

"Even my team leader pulled me aside and said he was (crazy)," Mr Turner said.

"But I guess everyone was an ex soldier so everyone was a little bit 'out-there'.

"I didn't think (McKay) was like dangerous or anything.

"He was considered a little bit stranger than the rest of us," Mr Turner said.

In later evidence Mr Turner said he asked McKay why he kept his ammunition magazine attached to his Glock pistol in his room.

"That's how I roll," Mr McKay allegedly replied.

Mr Turner said he didn't think the "threat level" warranted McKay keeping a magazine in his pistol given McKay's dorm was within a secure compound and up on the first floor.

"I just thought it was a bit out of the norm, it wasn't massively unusual," Mr Turner said.

Chris Betts with his wife Angela Betts. Picture: Facebook
Chris Betts with his wife Angela Betts. Picture: Facebook

In earlier evidence a former URG security manager Darren Lovett testified that he gave the formal directive for security staff to keep their high-powered guns in their dorm rooms at the time of Betts' death because weeks earlier protesting Iraqi civilians had breached the Baghdad compound's "green zone".

Allowing the security staff to keep their weapons in their rooms - and not locking them away in an armoury - was in breach of URG's "standard operating procedures" and of Iraqi law, the inquiry heard.

The hearing continues tomorrow.