'Venom, hatred': Shocking abuse before Lismore man's death
A YOUNG scientist who died in a shocking workplace shooting had been subjected to a campaign of abuse, exclusion and threats from co-workers, according to evidence at an inquest into his death.
Police determined Jeffrey Brooks, 24, accidentally shot himself in the chest after reaching into a vehicle and grabbing an old firearm which his colleagues alleged he was using to scare away cormorants at the Beenleigh Crayfish Farm, south of Brisbane, on March 13, 1996.
Family and friends have long believed the Lismore man was murdered and, backed by a special investigation by The Courier-Mail, are pushing for the case to be reopened.
They want greater scrutiny of his co-workers - the farm manager, his wife and a farm worker - who witnesses told an inquest hated Jeffrey and believed he posed a threat to their income and home.
A neighbour gave evidence that the farm manager, known to have a bad temper, had threatened to shoot him over a noise dispute.
Former co-owner John Pick, in a witness statement given to police and presented to the inquest, said he phoned the farm 30 minutes after Jeffrey's death and asked her "was it true what happened?''.
Mr Pick said he was shocked by her response, which was "he is nothing, not even worth considering''.
He said she told him "that it was terrible the things that had happened to us after all the things we had done for the farm's success''.
"There was so much venom in these words, so much obvious hatred,'' Mr Pick said in his statement.
"Her only concern was for herself and her husband … I was flabbergasted and stunned.''
The farm manager and his wife, who were originally from Germany, would deliberately talk in their native tongue so Jeffrey would not know what they were discussing.
The inquest into Jeffrey's death delivered an open finding, with the Coroner unable to discount murder or an accident.
In other evidence, co-owner Greg Milham said the co-workers were "antagonising every way they could'' in their dealings with Jeffrey, who had been employed as an aquaculturist and given the task of turning the struggling operation around.
On the stand, he talked about the conflict and how Jeffrey was bullied by the others.
Mr Milham said they had changed the locks and alarm codes at the farm office so Jeffrey couldn't get in.
"I do have a lot of written correspondence about this back and forward … there's documented stuff. We did this. He did this.''
Mr Milham said head office received weekly or twice-weekly calls from the farm manager, his wife and the worker, ranting about Jeffrey.
They called him fat, lazy and incompetent, which was not true according to the owners who had been impressed with his work, according to Mr Milham.
The farm hand was known as a recovered alcoholic who was "a hothead'', Mr Milham said.
The night before Jeffrey died, at a meeting held at the business's headquarters in northern NSW, he had been banging his fists on the table and demanding payment for overtime that had not been approved by his employers, according to Mr Milham.
Mr Milham said he told them he was done and would not be back, so they were surprised he turned up for work the next day, the day Jeffrey was found dead.
Jeffrey's wife, Nicky, also gave a statement to police and mentioned her concerns about the tensions on the farm
"There was a point when I wasn't happy with Jeffrey staying on the farm,'' she said.
"There was an incident with Jeffrey's car where it was thought that the water pump had been tampered with. When Jeffrey had the water pump replaced, it appeared to the mechanic that it had been tampered with."
Mr Milham told police that Jeffrey had been so concerned about staying on the property overnight that he had asked the owners to help pay for a caravan offsite, which they agreed to.
The couple later moved into a rental property at Carina in Brisbane.