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Featured Defence Force relocates key war crimes witness after blast at her NSW home

Aug 19, 2012
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A witness in the Brereton Inquiry into alleged war crimes in Afghanistan has had her house targeted in an early morning incident that blew in windows and embedded glass in floors, ceilings and walls.

The Defence Force immediately relocated the witness and her family after the incident because of fears for their safety.

The witness — Captain Louise* — is a former special operations intelligence officer who deployed to Afghanistan in 2012-2013.

Broken window

A blast around 3am at Captain Louise's NSW home prompted Defence to relocate her family. (
Supplied
)

New South Wales Police failed to find any suspects, and in responding to a complaint by the witness acknowledged that the investigating officer had "dropped the ball".

Captain Louise said that in November last year, she and her family were woken at 3:15am by several large blasts or crashes.

"I don't know how to describe that noise. It was shatteringly loud. And there was almost like three immediately following one another," she said.

Three windows at the front of the house were shattered, each containing two panes of glass.

"We had wooden floors. It had gouged the wooden floors underneath, it was embedded in the ceiling, over two-and-a-half metres [away].

"It was embedded in the ceiling and embedded all in the wall opposite. It was embedded in a wall immediately adjacent to the window as well. And in some spots, the glass was powder.

"Whatever they did required an awful lot of force."

Captain told about alleged killing of farmers
During her deployment to Afghanistan in 2012-2013, Captain Louise was told by an SAS operator about a mass killing just hours after his patrol had returned to base.

The SAS operator, known as Soldier C, is the former husband of Captain Louise.

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Soldier C is under investigation by the Australian Federal Police after Four Corners last year broadcast footage of him killing an unarmed and frightened Afghan in a wheat field in May 2012.

Captain Louise said that in December that year, on the SAS base at Tarin Kowt, Soldier C spoke to her about how his patrol had opened fire on a group of farmers in a field during an operation in northern Kandahar just after he had returned from the raid.

"He told me from his perspective what happened, which was that the patrol commander had accidentally shot one of these group of farmers. And then they made the decision that they couldn't leave anyone behind to tell [what happened]," she said.

"So they decided to kill all of them. And he described the fact that there was a very young person, about 13 or 14, there. He described shooting someone as they hid within the tractor wheel, cowering, and I can't remember if that was the 14-year-old."

Australian and Afghan sources have told ABC Investigations that at least 10 civilians were killed in the SAS operation.

Captain Louise was later interviewed by the Brereton Inquiry into war crimes and also spoke to the AFP.

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'I'm a witness in a murder investigation'
Captain Louise said she immediately called the police after the early morning incident in November last year that shattered the windows of the family home.

"I said to the operator, 'This has happened to our house, I'm a witness in a murder investigation, I'm concerned that it could be related,'" she said.

When a car failed to arrive, she called them again. She was told the police had gone to the wrong house.

"It took them 40 minutes to get [to us]. We rang up and tried to find out where they were, and they said, 'No they're actually there at the address'. And I said, 'They're definitely not here, we've been waiting all this time.'

"They showed up, they walked in, they did a quick walk around, didn't really look at anything, and then just said, 'Don't worry, we have a police presence out here.'"

Closeup of embedded glass on a window sill.

After the November 2020 blast, shards of glass were embedded in the window sill and on the walls and floor.(
Supplied
)

Captain Louise said Defence was much more concerned.

"Defence took it very seriously. We went to bed in our house that night and just never slept there again," she said.

"We were put into emergency accommodation that day. [Defence] were amazing … they weren't certain that we were safe any longer in that house."

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Captain Louise later complained to the NSW Police about their response to the incident.

In reply, a district inspector wrote to her to say that the police realised "more could be done in relation to initial attendance at the scene and immediate follow up."

"The officer agrees that where they primarily fell down was failing to canvass the area in a timely manner," he wrote.

The district inspector also acknowledged that the officer in charge of the matter did not complete the necessary inquiries as he should have and that no suspects were identified.

"The officer involved has indicated that he 'dropped the ball' and has stated he will do better in the future," he wrote.

ABC Investigations contacted NSW Police, who said the officer who attended the incident had been "counselled".

NSW Police said officers returned to the house 12 days after the incident and conducted further inquiries, including canvassing the scene and surrounding area.

A police spokeswoman said they found no evidence of any explosive material.

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ABC Investigations also asked police how many people were interviewed for the investigation, but there was no response.

NSW Police said the complaint by Captain Louise was resolved to her "agreed satisfaction", but that a review of the initial investigation was underway by the district commander.

"I was terrified and I still am. I still wake up at 3:30 in the morning," Captain Louise said.

"It hasn't shaken my determination. Because in one way, I'm really angry that I'm living in this fear now. But it has certainly made my life harder. I'll say that, you know, I live in fear now that if it was related, what might be coming next?"

*Name changed to protect the source's identity

Mark Willacy is a journalist with the ABC Investigations team. He gathered the insider accounts and pictures for this story while researching his new book Rogue Forces.


 

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