A freshly-attested police officer who could be heard swearing and joking during the search for a missing Gomeroi man in Moree last year has said he is not racist.
Constable Nick Murray gave evidence on day four of a coronial inquest into the death of Gordon Copeland on Thursday.
In body worn video from the night of the incident, Constable Murray and colleague, Constable Kobe Russell, can be seen laughing while Murray himself uses a number of profanities throughout the footage.
"F*** this little c***," he said as searching.
"There was no malice in that comment directed towards anyone," Constable Murray explained in court. "The terrain was grueling. It was just a bad situation to be in, for anyone, and I was trying as best I could to do what I could at the time. It was just a me getting frustrated comment," he said.
When questioned by counsel assisting the coroner, Dr Peggy Dwyer, if his comments were in any way directed to the Aboriginality of the person, Constable Murray said they were not.
"Their opinion of what I said is going to be their own, I can't change that, but my own intention was nothing to do with racism," he said. "I am adamant I am not a racist person. There is no disrespect to anyone. I just said those things. I would have said it to anyone. It was just the situation, nothing to do with colour."
In fact, Constable Murray insists at that time he was unaware the person he was searching for was Aboriginal. He said it was too dark to see and that the person had a 'hoodie' on.
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The evidence shows that as police searched for Copeland, he tried to climb a barbed wire fence and then a "thud" was heard before falling or jumping into the river.
Constable Murray can be seen saying, "it sounded like he hurt himself pretty bad but... think he's hurt himself whoever it is, hey... This is where he jumped here, so he's definitely gone with the current, whether he's crossed" - the search continued - "he's only young too, all his clothes on. It's a wonder he hasn't f***ing drowned".
Only a short time later its heard, "What do you want to do? Keep looking. F*** me.... Head back up? Righto".
When the pair arrived back to where other officers are, they gave details to leading Senior Constable Crystal Manusu.
"I think there's two people but I only saw one in the river. That one was moaning and groaning as he swam away so I think he hurt himself. I said, 'police, don't move', and it was like road runner off Looney Tunes, straight down the cliff."
Officers left the scene soon after.
Directed at the family in court, he said, "My reactions and what I saw was wrong knowing what's happened. If I knew this was going to be the situation or outcome, I definitely would have been more sincere and wouldn't have said any of those sorts of things".
"In reflection, we definitely should have spent more time looking at the river.
"I did try my best that day to stop what's happened and I am sincerely apologetic... I'm sorry I wasn't good enough."
Is there a cover-up?
The public defender representing the Copeland family, Bill Nield, said there were inconsistent versions of why the police went back to the scene after the initial search ended.
During a police interview Constable Murray stated he was asked to return to the scene by Senior Constable Manusu to collect shoes which may be needed for further evidence at a later time however, in Constable Murray's personal notebook his handwriting indicated going to take photographs.
"The notebook is contemporaneous; it's just there for myself to refresh my memory," Constable Murray said.
"Are the two versions different because in fact neither of them is the correct reason why leading Senior Constable Manusu sent you back to the river?," Mr Nield asked.
Both Constables Murray and Russell gave evidence that upon their visit to the scene a second time they heard a noise they believed may have been a cow.
"Can I suggest the reason you were so interested in the noise is because you had in fact been sent back by leading Senior Constable Manusu to see if you could hear any noise being made by the person you had been looking for the first time at the river?"
It was on this next visit that a person, now known to be Gordon Copeland, was spotted in the river. Officers say they only saw him for about 15-30 seconds and about 30m from where they were.
"Did you think to go in after him?" Dr Dwyer asked Constable Russell. "As I got to the water's edge, before I lost sight, my intention was to go in after him, but after I had lost sight I had no idea where to go," he said.
The hearing continues.