The parents of Jeffrey Brooks have expressed hope that new powers granted to the Coroner may help blow his cold case wide open.
The parents of Jeffrey Brooks have expressed hope that new powers granted to the Coroner may help blow his cold case wide open.

Tough new laws give new hope for cold case justice

A TOUGHER Coroners Act has given the parents of Jeffrey Brooks, whose 1996 suspected murder was exposed in The Courier-Mail's Dead Wrong podcast investigation, new hope his killer will be brought to justice.

State Parliament introduced the long-awaited legislation overhaul - part of the Justice and Other Amendments Bill - late on Wednesday.

It brought pre-2003 cases, including some of Queensland's biggest cold cases, in line with modern inquests where the Coroner has the power to compel witnesses to give potentially self-incriminating evidence.

Acting Attorney-General and Minister for Justice Stirling Hinchliffe said the laws aimed to unlock longstanding unresolved cases.

"For deaths prior to 2003, witnesses could refuse to give self-incriminating evidence, which made it harder for coroners to find out what actually happened,'' he said.

On November 3, 2018, Attorney-General Yvette D'Ath ordered the Jeffrey Brooks matter be brought before the Coroners Court based on new information uncovered by the Dead Wrong investigation.

Jeffrey's parents, Lawrie and Wendy, said they now hoped to gain one of the first inquests under the updated legislation.

"We have always known that Jeffrey could not have shot himself like the police said. We have never seen any justice, but hopefully now we will.''

Their son, a 24-year-old aquaculturist, was found dead in a vehicle at a Beenleigh crayfish farm in 1996.

Police, within minutes of arriving, determined the newlywed - an experienced hunter - shot himself by accident while pulling a loaded shotgun from the car - barrel-first.

But an investigation by The Courier-Mail, which included the commissioning of ballistic tests, consultation with international forensic experts and tracking down and interviewing key witnesses, shed grave doubt on the police determination.

At an inquest in 1997, Coroner Trevor Anders delivered an open finding, saying Jeffrey's death was either murder or an accident. 

Jeffrey Brooks’ parents Wendy and Lawrie. Picture: Peter Hall
Jeffrey Brooks’ parents Wendy and Lawrie. Picture: Peter Hall

Mr and Mrs Brooks, aged 76 and 70, said they hoped the new inquest would happen soon as many of those available to give evidence were "getting on in years''.

Prominent lawyer Peter Boyce, who represented the family of Daniel Morcombe, is also representing the Brooks family and looking forward to a new, and much more effective, inquest into Jeffrey's suspicious death.

Mr Boyce said the latest changes to the Act would vastly increase the chances of getting to the truth.

"Under the old system, if you were a suspect, you got in the witness box, claimed privilege and cleared out ... vital evidence went begging. I have had numerous cases where that happened.

"Now, questions can be asked and answered that might lead to the truth, which is what loved ones (of victims) want most.''

Jeffrey Brooks.
Jeffrey Brooks.

 

A spokesman for the Coroners Court said it was now in receipt of all material from the Queensland Police Service investigators assisting with the coronial investigation into the death of Mr Brooks.

The spokesman said the material was being compiled into a brief of evidence for review by the lawyer assisting the Coroner. A date for the inquest would be set once that review had been finalised.

State Coroner Terry Ryan said he welcomed the amendments to the Coroners Act.

"The Coroners Act 2003 modernised the functions of the coroner with a focus on finding the truth and preventing future deaths. It ended the idea that a coroner was part of the criminal process in deciding whether to commit persons for trial,'' he said.

"For the past 16 years, the distinction between 'pre-commencement deaths' from 'post-commencement deaths' resulted in deaths reported before and after 30 November 2003 being subject to different investigative regimes. No other Australian jurisdiction makes such a distinction.''

 

Other cases that could benefit from the new legislation include Brisbane's infamous 1973 Whiskey Au Go Go nightclub bombing and the 1989 cold case murder of Toowoomba teenager Annette Mason. A new inquest into her murder is under way and has been adjourned pending new DNA testing.

TRUE CRIME: The seven-part Dead Wrong podcast is available on iTunes, or your favourite podcast platform.

Originally published as Tough new laws give new hope for cold case justice


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