Inside the ‘worst’ day ever for these cops
IF you ask any long-serving Gold Coast cop what their worst day on the job has been, they'll answer May 29, 2011. The day when one of their own - a young father and a good mate - was cruelly gunned down in a brazen tavern robbery.
"MAY 29, 2011." That's the answer you will get from longtime serving police officers on the Gold Coast when you ask: what's the worst day you've had on the job?
It was the day Detective Senior Constable Damian Leeding was shot, later dying from his injuries.
In the months leading up to the popular detective's death, the Gold Coast had looked like a city under siege.
Armed robberies were on the rise, with more than 60 reported in the five months before Detective Senior Constable Damian Leeding and his partner, Detective Senior Constable Nicole Jackson, were called out to reports of a robbery at the Pacific Pines Tavern.
Phillip Graeme Abell and Donna Lee McAvoy had entered the tavern about 10pm and ordered patrons and staff to a back room, binding their limbs with zip-lock ties as they emptied the tavern's safe.
Benjamin Ernest Power, 41, sat in the getaway car, communicating with Abell and McAvoy, planning their quick exit.
During the murder trial of Abell and McAvoy, witness Andree Defrenne told the jury Abell stormed the tavern brandishing a double-barrelled, sawn-off shot gun.
She said her hands were "forcefully and aggressively" tied behind her back as she was made to lie facedown on the floor.
She said she screamed "please don't kill me'' and the gunman, who had a "deep, gravelly voice'', replied "stop f--king looking at me''.
Ben Skene was working security at the time and told the court he was told to hand over his radio by a "plumpish figure".
He said the gunman walked in moments later "pushing'' a patron in front of him.
Mr Skene said he handed the radio over as the man told him "don't try anything you lanky f--ker, I'll shoot you''.
He said he was tied up on the floor of the gaming area alongside other patrons at the tavern. In total, seven staff and customers were tied up and guns pointed at their heads. Abell was the muscle and intimidator, McAvoy was there to get the money. In total, the robbery lasted 16 minutes.
The pair had a bag full of cash, about $16,000 in all.
The officers arrived about 10.20pm and noticed a man parked nearby in a blue car. When they looked towards the tavern they saw Abell and McAvoy dragging a large bag of cash to the tavern door.
They drew their weapons.
At 10.40pm Sen-Const Leeding and Sen-Const Jackson stood between the robbers and their getaway car.
Sen-Const Leeding jumped the fence of a child's playground, shouting "stop, police".
Two shots were fired. Sen-Const Jackson dived for cover. A third shot rang out.
Sen-Const Jackson could see the gunman through the fence and her partner, Damian Leeding, lying still on the ground, still gripping his gun in his right hand, his arms by his side. She tried to rouse him by calling out. No response.
She told the jury she then came face-to-face with the killer.
"I could see his eyes were just staring at me," she said.
Abell was still holding the gun.
Sen-Const Jackson radioed for help. "Shots fired, shots fired. Urgent. Officer down."
She ran back to her mate's side.
"I spoke to him, yelled out to him and he's done nothing and I started doing compressions.''
McAvoy and Abell fled on foot into Pacific Pines bushland.
Gold Coast Police dog squad officer Senior Constable Wayne Algie and his dog Bosun tracked Abell for about 350 metres into scrub. Bosun attacked, latching on to Abell's armpit.
Abell had shouted "you have the wrong guy'', claiming he was just on a walk after drinking.
Sen-Const Algie, who retired from the police service last month, told the court during the murder trial: "I told him to stay still, keep your hands where I can see them or I'll f--king shoot."
He said Abell didn't make a sound when he was bitten by Bosun.
McAvoy was arrested nearby and taken into custody.
Sen-Const Leeding was rushed to hospital, barely breathing with horrific head injuries.
Power, the getaway driver, had fled and returned the car he and his girlfriend McAvoy had borrowed.
The owner of the car, Kim Rane, said she woke about midnight to see Power pull into her driveway and wipe down the steering wheel with a cloth. He jumped into a white ute they had left there and took off.
He was arrested the day after the shooting.
DAMIAN Leeding's family made the heartbreaking decision to turn off his life support three days after the shooting. Sen-Constable Leeding suffered more than 50 injuries to his head and face shotgun pellets struck him.
He suffered catastrophic brain injuries and died in the Gold Coast Hospital on June 1, 201l, surrounded by family. He was 35.
He left behind his wife Sonya and two young children, Grace and Hudson.
His funeral on June 7 was held at the Gold Coast Convention Centre, attended by thousands and watched by millions on television.
Hardened officers wept at the loss of their good mate Damo, a man they described as a serial prankster, a dedicated officer, a loyal mate and a loving family man.
During the funeral service, Detective Senior Sergeant Mark Procter spoke of the last conversation he had with his mate, a phone call largely to brag about Manly flogging Damo's beloved Brisbane Broncos.
"Had I known this would be the last time I would ever speak to Damo, I would have had so much more to say," Sen-Sgt Procter said, fighting back tears.
"I would have told him to be safe, to look after himself and to not be so brave.
"If he could talk to me now … the last thing he would probably say would be 'promise me you will look after Sonya and the kids'.
"And he probably would have thrown a 'Go Broncos!' in there somewhere."
Then Queensland Police Commissioner Bob Atkinson said Sen-Constable Leeding had been an exemplary role model as a police officer and a person.
"You served with honour and we are greatly honoured that you chose to serve with us," Mr Atkinson said.
Police chaplain Fr Columba Macbeth-Green said Sen-Constable Leeding had been killed in "an evil act" but from that evil, some good had come to pass.
"I pray that the love that has surrounded Damian's death will (make) the world a better place," Fr Macbeth-Green said.
Family friend Tracy Wilkinson spoke of a cheeky larrikin who loved his job, but loved his family more.
"They (family) were by far his proudest accomplishments in life," she said. "He was not only a great police officer, he was great at everything he did."
Detective Senior Constable Damien Leeding was posthumously awarded the valour medal. In the Queensland Police Service there is no higher honour.
ABELL, POWER AND McAVOY
PHILLIP Graeme Abell and Donna Lee McAvoy pleaded not guilty to murder, but guilty to armed robbery with personal violence at the Pacific Pines Tavern and to seven counts of deprivation of liberty.
In a recorded walk-through of the crime scene, McAvoy apologised for the shooting.
"I'm sorry about the officer, I didn't mean for anyone to get hurt," she said.
The pair were found guilty of murder following a two-week trial. It took the jury less than three hours to return the guilty verdict.
There were cheers and tears in the packed courtroom when the verdict was read out.
A cold blooded killer to the end, Abell refused to stand for the judge during the verdict and flipped him the bird as the jury read their findings.
McAvoy openly wept.
Benjamin Ernest Power had pleaded guilty to armed robbery and Sen-Const Leeding's manslaughter weeks before the others faced trial for murder.
Abell and McAvoy were sentenced to life imprisonment for murder. Power was jailed for nine years for manslaughter.