THE colleague of slain environment officer Glen Turner has told how he pleaded in vain with gunman Ian Turnbull to put down his gun and let him seek medical help.
On Thursday, Robert Strange told the NSW Supreme Court he and Mr Turner had stopped outside a property in Croppa Creek, near Moree, to take photographic evidence of stacks of burning vegetation, on the afternoon of July 29, 2014.
Mr Strange said a car pulled up behind them and Mr Turnbull, 81, got out and pointed a rifle at Mr Turner.
“I heard a small fire and I saw that Glen went down on one knee and got back to his feet and said, ‘Ian, what are you doing?’” Mr Strange told the jury.
“Then another shot fired and hit Glen in the upper left chest area.”
Mr Strange, who was a sworn police officer with Queensland and Australian Federal Police for 13 years before joining various state government environment departments, said he and Mr Turner tried to get back into their car to get away, but Mr Turnbull continued to train the gun on them.
“I said, ‘Sir, put the gun down, what are you doing?’,” Mr Strange said.
Mr Turnbull allegedly told him to get rid of his digital camera and said, “No, you’ve ruined the Turnbulls, you’re continually persecuting us, the only way you are going home is in a body bag.”
Mr Strange said he was the one trying to speak to Mr Turnbull, but he assumed the body bag threat was directed at Mr Turner.
“I asked him to put the firearm down, that he had hurt Glen and I needed to get Glen some help; he had a young family and we needed to get out of there,” Mr Strange told the jury.
He said Mr Turnbull replied: “No, no, you’ve ruined the Turnbulls, we’re in a drought, you’re constantly persecuting us, you’ve got planes flying over here.”
“He wasn’t in any mood to let me get to the vehicle or to let Glen go,” Mr Strange said.
Mr Strange said he tried to get to the driver’s seat of his car several times but “he caught me every time moving forward, and aimed the weapon in my direction and told me to get back or I’d get one in the heart”.
He said for about 20 minutes Mr Turner was crouched down on one side of the car while Mr Turnbull was on the other. Every time Mr Turnbull moved, Mr Strange would tell Glen to move the opposite way or put his head down.
At some stage, Mr Turner made his way to the rear of the car and activated his personal emergency response beacon.
The court heard Mr Turnbull fired a further two shots through the car, which didn’t hit anyone, and Mr Strange again tried pleading with him.
“I said, ‘We’re unarmed, we are not here to hurt you’ but Turnbull kept saying, ‘You’ve sent us bankrupt’ and that we were there persecuting the family,” Mr Strange told the court.
He broke down as he recalled how Mr Turner “pleaded” with him to get him out.
“I said, ‘Glen, I have to be fit to get us out. It’s no good us both being shot’.”
As darkness fell, he said he tried calling triple zero and hoped the operator could overhear him telling him Mr Turnbull to put down the gun. But being so far out in the country, there was not enough reception for the call to go through.
“I said to Turnbull, ‘We are only doing our job’, and he said we were not letting him do his job and we wanted to send him broke,” he said.
Mr Turnbull told Mr Turner twice he would be going home in a body bag, Mr Strange said.
As it got darker, Mr Strange said Mr Turner “had had enough and stood up and tried to run”.
Mr Turnbull raised the firearm to his eyeline and shot Mr Turner as he was running away.
His colleague had got about 10 metres away before he was hit and fell, Mr Strange said.
The elderly farmer then said to Mr Strange: “You can go, I’m going home to wait for the police”.
He got into his car and drove off in a controlled manner, Mr Strange said.
He estimated the entire incident took about 40 minutes.
Mr Strange said he drove the car closer to where Mr Turner lay to take advantage of the headlights and kneeled down and poured water over him.
“I was talking to him and letting him know it was going to be OK.”
He heard a car approaching and, despite his fears it was Mr Turnbull returning, he stood in the middle of the road and waived the car down.
“I just closed my eyes ... because if it wasn’t someone friendly I didn’t want to see what was going to happen,” he said.
The driver, local farmhand Andrew Uebergang, told Mr Strange to use the phone in his car, which could access mobile reception thanks to an aerial.
Mr Strange spoke to a triple zero operator and then returned to Mr Turner until police and paramedics arrived.
“I wanted to get back to Glen because he was all alone,” Mr Strange said.
Under cross-examination from Mr Turnbull’s barrister Todd Alexis SC, Mr Strange denied Mr Turnbull spoke in a “flat, monotone voice” or that he did not respond to his attempts to engage in constructive dialogue.
“No, it was said with some feeling,” he said. “There was no screaming, it was a rational response.”
Earlier on Thursday, Mr Strange said he and Mr Turner had made good time travelling from their office in Tamworth and had decided to drive past the properties in Croppa Creek so Mr Strange could familiarise himself with the area before the inspections scheduled for the next day.
Mr Turnbull has pleaded not guilty to murder but guilty to manslaughter on the grounds of substantial impairment due to mental illness. The Crown has not accepted the plea.
The trial before Justice Peter Johnson continues.