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'Like Beirut': slain cop's partner tells inquest of hail of bullets

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Queensland police officer Brett Forte died in a hail of automatic gunfire in an act like “something out of Beirut”, his partner has told an inquest.

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Senior Constable Brett Forte, 42, was killed when Ricky Maddison opened fire with an automatic weapon on a police vehicle in the Lockyer Valley, west of Brisbane, on May 29, 2017.

Maddison, 40, was shot dead the following day by police after being asked to surrender more than 80 times during a 20-hour siege.

Senior Constable Cath Nielsen survived the shooting that killed her partner and gave evidence on Monday.

The decorated officer held back tears, describing Forte as a good friend and an ethical man.

Five days before the shooting, the volatile gunman spoke to Neilsen and “he was rambling and quite volatile” after more than two months on the run from an arrest warrant.

“He was swearing a lot, saying that he had no money and no home … he said police had taken everything away from him. I was trying to settle him down,”  Neilsen told the inquest in Toowoomba.

The inquest heard Maddison had repeatedly taunted police by calling from payphones, telling them “yous (sic) know where I am” and “I left enough trails”.

Finally, on the day of the shooting, Maddison was pursued by several police vehicles along the Warrego Highway before he veered on to a dirt road.

Officers Forte and Neilsen were leading the pursuit, with Forte calling out a warning over the police radio: “Just be aware he has firearms … If there is a takedown, be careful.”

Police followed on Wallers Road until the road narrowed and Maddison’s vehicle slowed to a stop at the crest of a rise, and the mood in the lead patrol car suddenly changed.

“It was obvious, and I got in my head, he is taking us somewhere,” Neilsen said.

“At the same time, Bretty said something similar. So we obviously both thought it at the same time. Definitely, the mood changed.”

Both experienced officers had considered the possibility of a confrontation with Maddison.

“He wasn’t just going to let me put the cuffs on him and walk him to the car,” she said.

Maddison used the high ground advantage and opened fire on the police.

“It was like a shooting gallery. That’s exactly what it was that day. It was narrow, very steep, and he was on top … He was shooting down at us essentially.

“We came up behind him, and as quick as anything, he got out of the vehicle, turned toward us and started firing.

“I couldn’t believe it was automatic gunfire … how does that happen?”

“At the same time, I’ve got my gun out and started shooting through my windscreen,” Nielsen said.

“I continued shooting as we’ve gone down … Brett obviously got hit and that made the car swerve.”

Nielsen said officers smashed the patrol car’s windscreen to try and drag Forte to safety, but it was too late.

“It was like something out of the streets of Beirut.

“It took a long time to make a hole big enough to get Bretty out. I pulled him back on top of me  … that’s when I realised the amount of blood.

“There was a bullet hole in his arm, it was a mess.”

Despite his wounds, she tried desperately to reach her partner, who was making groaning noises.

She asked if he could hear her, but then his “colour changed”.

The inquest was also told of deep divisions within the tactical crime unit, with some officers “kept in the dark” from key information.

There were also allegations senior police “gaslighted” staff to protect other officers who failed to pass on that Maddison may have been armed with automatic weapons before the shooting.

In the days and months after Sen Const Forte’s death, mourning turned to anger as Sen Const Nielsen asked questions about reports automatic gunfire had been heard near Maddison’s rural property before the ambush.

She said through tears she had been vilified and ostracised by other police before her service firearm was taken away.

“My life was made a living hell for asking these questions. I have done nothing wrong, nothing wrong.

“Not only am I dealing with the death of my mate, but I was dealing with s*** from that office because I asked questions.”

Sen Const Nielsen said if the officers at the scene of the ambush had known there was a possibility Maddison could be armed with automatic weapons, the outcome may have been different.

“If I had all the information that everyone else knew, yes, it could be very different,” she said.

“I am proud of being a police officer, I am proud of what I do and I am proud of my brothers and sisters in blue …. but Brett Forte’s death cannot be in vain.

“We have to change cultures.

“We have to do better because this can never happen again.”

The inquest, set down for two weeks, continues.

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