The widow of a Queensland police officer killed more than four years ago says she is being silenced after being refused permission to read a statement in an inquest.
Senior Constable Forte died after his vehicle was peppered with 27 bullets when Ricky Maddison opened fire with an automatic weapon in the Lockyer Valley, west of Brisbane, on May 29, 2017.
His widow Susie Forte – also a police officer – was to read a victim impact statement at the inquest in Brisbane on Friday, but state coroner Terry Ryan refused permission.
Counsel for police officers represented at the inquest said they had been “ambushed” by the 21-page document that was “in the very least defamatory”, potentially contemptuous of proceedings and contained allegations of criminal conduct including against people who were not there to respond.
During the legal representatives’ discussion about the statement, Mrs Forte stood up, asking Mr Ryan if she could speak, saying she had waited four-and-a-half years to have her say.
“The QPS has not looked out for me whatsoever,” she said.
“They have tried to silence me.
“The truth hurts.
“I would not be here if my husband wasn’t murdered … and, what, you’re going to make me wait even further?”
Other family members also stood and spoke.
“Susie’s husband, my brother, is laying in a box up in Toowoomba,” Luke Forte said.
“Surely she gets the right to say what she wants to say to finish these proceedings off.”
Outside court, Mr Forte said Queensland Police had failed in their duty of care and failed his brother.
“Our QPS system is broken – you can be a widow with three children in the most horrific and public circumstances be bullied, intimidated and isolated yet you still can’t be afforded the right to speak as a victim.
“I am beyond heartbroken … (and) beyond angry at the way she has been treated and I know Brett would be rolling in his grave, but I am not beyond fighting for the truth and Susie to be heard.”
Mr Ryan ruled that Mrs Forte’s statement could not be published for a week, while other parties make submissions or consider further action.
The inquest also heard from operational tactical expert Acting Inspector Tim Mowle who said the fatal shooting would have been one of the most volatile, confrontational and dynamic situations he has knowledge of.
“The way it transpired with a person with very little warning stepping out a vehicle with a high powered semi-automatic weapon and blatantly shooting at police who were simply trying to do their job,” the officer with 30 years of experience added.
“When you talk about confrontations by individuals against police in Australia, I can’t think of any that come to mind that equal this.”
Acting Insp Mowle said he found missed opportunities in the lead-up to the shooting.
These included trying to facilitate a tactical arrest after using surveillance to find out where Maddison was hiding out.
With his tactical experience and knowledge that Maddison had access to a firearm Acting Insp Mowle said he would have kept a safe distance once Maddison’s vehicle stopped, giving time for the police helicopter and SERT officers to arrive.
Another missed opportunity was for an officer to take overall tactical command during the pursuit which would have included providing information to other police units that could have helped.
An on-ground supervisor has since been introduced in the Toowoomba area, but Acting Insp Mowel said such a role been in place at the time the outcome may have been different.
“Based on the information I was provided I believe that confrontation was inevitable,” he told the inquest.
“I believe that if we did have an on-ground supervisor that had provided a bit more clarity in regards to tactics and the other members that were involved in and around that activity had that direction, the outcome may have been different.
“We may have been able to isolate and contain, potentially there still would have been confrontation and gun fire, but the outcome might have been different.”