The death of a Queensland security guard at the Australian Embassy in Baghdad was most likely a “tragic accident”, a coroner has found.

Key points:

  • Coroner Terry Ryan says there is insufficient evidence to rule suicide
  • He says Chris Betts was at the end of his deployment and about to travel home
  • Mr Ryan found URG failed to enforce weapons security policies

Former Australian soldier Chris Betts, 34, died on May 12, 2016 when a night of drinking and playing video games with his colleague Sun McKay ended in him dead with a single gunshot wound to the head.

Mr McKay and Mr Betts were friends who both worked for the firm Unity Resources Group (URG), which was contracted by the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) to provide personal protection to embassy staff.

Mr Betts’s death was initially reported as a suicide, but his parents pushed for the inquest over concerns other factors may have played a role.

In handing down his findings, state coroner Terry Ryan said there was insufficient evidence to suggest Mr Betts intentionally took his own life.

“Just before 2:30am, Mr Betts took Mr McKay’s Glock handgun, which was kept in Mr McKay’s room and had been loaded earlier by Mr McKay,” Mr Ryan said.

“Mr Betts held it next to his head and pulled the trigger, and suffered a fatal gunshot wound to the head.

“It’s likely that his death was a tragic accident.”

‘He died when it was least expected’

Mr Ryan said Mr Betts was off duty and at the end of his deployment when he died.

“He was supposed to travel home the next day to see his wife and his parents,” Mr Ryan told the court.

“He died when it was least expected that he would and when he was supposed to be in relatively safe surroundings.”

Exterior of the Australian Embassy in Baghdad.

URG no longer holds the security contract for the Australian Embassy in Baghdad.(AAP: Alex Ellinghausen/Fairfax Pool)

Mr Ryan found that URG had appropriate standard operating procedures (SOPs) in place at the time of Mr Betts’ death, but it was clear from the evidence that they “were not always adhered to by URG staff or enforced by URG management”.

“Enforcement of the standard operating procedures and dry contract by management was inconsistent, resulting in a culture where excessive drinking and unsafe weapons handling practices by contractors was effectively ignored.

“The failure by URG management to enforce their weapons security policies and the dry contract, in combination, amounted to a reckless disregard for the safety of URG staff.

The court heard URG no longer held the DFAT contract for security services, and the company did not participate in the inquest or cooperate with the Australian Federal Police investigation.

Mr Ryan said there was evidence URG staff actively engaged in covering up information, which did not reflect well on the company.

He said he was unable to conclude that DFAT’s oversight of the contract was inadequate.

Mr Ryan recommended that DFAT ensured security services contracting companies had appropriate SOPs, and procedures to enforce those SOPs, particularly regarding weapons and ammunition security, and drug and alcohol use by employees.

He also recommended that DFAT take all reasonable and practical steps, in accordance with relevant contract provisions, to ensure contracting companies and their staff adhered to SOPs.