The Sunday Mail (Queensland)
Colleagues blamed me for my own husband’s death
EXCLUSIVE: IN A BURIED ARTICLE, SLAIN POLICE HERO BRETT FORTE'S GRIEVING WIDOW SUSAN FORTE REVEALED HOW SHE WAS HARASSED BY STRANGERS IN THE WAKE OF HER HUSBAND'S KILLING, AND BLAMED FOR IT BY HER COLLEAGUES
THE grieving widow of slain Queensland Police hero Brett Forte has sensationally revealed she was blamed for her husband’s death and harassed by members of the public who claimed the killer was a “hero”.
Also a police officer in Toowoomba, Senior Constable Susan Forte revealed colleagues laid blame on her after she was the first person to identify the man who, in a cruel twist of fate, would later kill her husband, as a risk to the public.
The explosive claims were aired by Mrs Forte in an emotional article commissioned by the Queensland Police Service this year. The article was later pulled from publication after senior officers raised concerns about the content.
A draft of the piece has been provided to The Sunday Mail by Brett’s brother, Luke Forte, who said he believed his sister-in-law’s story should be published.
“I wanted what Susie said to be public knowledge because it is an important and powerful statement about her resilience,” he said.
The move comes as Luke slammed the internal police probe into his brother’s death, saying he had been left in the dark and refused information from investigators.
A CRUEL TWIST OF FATE
Senior Constable Brett Forte was killed outside Toowoomba by gunman Ricky Maddison, who was asked to surrender more than 80 times before he was also fatally shot, in May 2017.
Constable Forte was working as an officer in Toowoomba’s Tactical Crime Squad when he was shot by the man who had a “grievance against police” before a 20-hour siege ensued.
Luke said Mrs Forte was asked to participate in a profile piece expected to be published in the internal Police Bulletin to celebrate International Women’s Day this year.
In the draft article, she detailed the chilling sequence of events that resulted in her husband being shot dead by the same man from whom she had helped a woman escape.
She also explained that in March 2017, she identified a “high-risk respondent with an extensive history of significant violence” who had turned up at his ex-partner’s residence and discharged a firearm – referring to Ricky Maddison.
“Fast-forward to the 29th of May, 2017, the day that ultimately changed my life forever,” Mrs Forte says in the article. “I was on duty when my husband was murdered by that very same respondent.
“The terrifying radio calls will always be etched in my memory.
“The ongoing media attention, especially with our children being constantly in the public eye, and the fear of going back to work was extremely overwhelming. I honestly didn’t know if I wanted to pursue my career as a police officer.”
But she did return to work, two months after Brett’s death.
“I returned to work with a lot of hesitation and uncertainty. Coming back to a dangerous job dealing with high-risk domestic violence respondents was daunting, knowing that Brett had been killed by a respondent I recognised as being dangerous,” Mrs Forte says in the piece.
“Our children are still extremely anxious and keep asking me what would happen if I were also to be killed. That’s something I can’t answer.”
Mrs Forte later claims a “minority of colleagues” blamed her for her husband’s death.
“The challenges I’ve had to endure since Brett’s death can only be described as horrific,” she wrote.
“I’ve been subjected to ongoing harassment and disgusting behaviours by some members of the community. One person said:
‘You would be better off dead with your husband’, and another said: ‘The guy who killed your husband is my hero’.
“And just when you think the heartbreak of losing a loved one could not worsen, the way I have been treated by a minority of colleagues has made my journey of recovery extremely challenging.
“I’ve been blamed for Brett’s death by some because of my role working within the DV unit at the time. Being faced with such encounters has only made me more resilient, however.”
PULLED FROM PUBLICATION
Luke said the harassment Mrs Forte endured had been in comments left on news articles posted to Facebook and criminals she had dealings with.
“A few days after Brett died, I was with Susie who was laying flowers outside the police station and a carload of people drove past and yelled: ‘What about Ricky?’ ” he said.
After participating in the profile piece on request, Mrs Forte was advised on International Women’s Day that the story had not been approved for publication, after making her own inquiries, The Sunday Mail has been told.
It is understood Mrs Forte was advised that senior police officers decided the piece was not approved for publication because it touched on issues to be considered by the inquest into Brett’s death.
The article ends with Mrs Forte explaining that she is a “very private person” who has “never spoken out since Brett’s death”.
“The reason I’m speaking now is to let everyone know that no matter what adversity you may face, you can and will get through each day,” she says in the article draft.
“I want others to know how important it is to have people in your work environment that support you, ones you can trust and know will be there during the tough days and nights.”
Luke said it was upsetting that the article was not published.
“I think it would have meant a lot to Susie as she has been through more than anyone could imagine,” he told The Sunday Mail. “I was glad that she had been recognised as a resilient, strong woman who had overcome adversity and it was about time someone acknowledged it.
“My wife spoke to Susie when she found out the article would not be published and she was really upset and quite distressed.”
A QPS spokesman confirmed: “An internal article featuring Senior Constable Susan Forte’s story was placed on hold due to concerns it detailed issues which may be raised during du i th the i inquest. Susan was advised of this decision by the author of the article. The intention is to reconsider publication of the article after the inquest.”
When contacted, Susan Forte’s lawyer, Dave Garratt, declined to comment, except to say he was unaware of the article.
LOOKING FOR ANSWERS
In an exclusive interview with The Sunday Mail, Luke also made explosive allegations that there had been a raft of inadequacies in the police Ethical Standards Command investigation.
He recounted attending the scene where Brett died and being treated “rudely” by officers.
“It wasn’t until a name was referenced that was unfamiliar that we realised that for the majority of the time the ESC officers with us had b believed we were Maddison’s brothers,” he said. “No one had even taken the time to realise we were the brothers of the officer that had just given his life to serve and protect.”
Luke said that over the past four years he had repeatedly been denied answers to questions about his brother’s death. “After ESC came to my house in the November of 2017, I requested that ESC keep myself up to date with anything they could,” he said. “But not once was I contacted, updated or even touched base with, despite my request that they do this.”
Luke said he found out about the inquest through the media.
“My dad was a police officer, my grandfather was a police officer, Brett’s wife Susie, her brother, Brett, they were all in the service – so I’ve got a lot of love for police officers,” he said. “What I don’t have a lot of love for is how they investigate after a death like this and what they do when you ask hard questions.”
‘ALL SMOKE AND MIRRORS’
Luke also revealed that their supportive family liaison officer was “officially removed” without warning and replaced with another person, who Luke says has had minimal contact with the family. “It’s just like: ‘Here is a helicopter named after your brother’, and then they ask us to pose for photos and
I’m grateful for all that, but looking back it’s all smoke and mirrors,” he said.
“I’ve asked a lot of questions about how Brett was killed. They were tough questions, but I wanted answers. This was my brother’s life and I really haven’t been given any answers or think there has been any transparency in the ESC investigation into his death.”
The inquest is expected to consider the adequacy of the ESC investigation, the attempted arrest of Maddison, the strategies used by negotiators during the siege and whether changes could be made to prevent similar deaths.
The inquest, which starts in Toowoomba on Monday, was delayed last year due to COVID-19.
The QPS spokesman said it was not appropriate “to comment on matters that are relevant to the upcoming coronial inquiry”.