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Prison officer Lisa Brown recalls the day the killer of the Vester sisters, Fernando, tried to stab a fellow inmate to death

Prison officer Lisa Brown has been dealing with double murderer Vester Fernando long enough to pick up on a few warning signs that he might be having dark thoughts again.

Fernando, who was serving a life sentence for the 1994 kidnapping, rape and murder of nurse Sandra Hoare in Walgett, northern NSW, «seemed a bit off», Brown recalled.

That first appalling crime was committed in the company of Fernando’s cousin Brendan, who shares the same surname and was also sentenced to life in prison.

Five years later, Vester stabbed Brendan to death with a scissor blade in Lithgow prison because, in his own words, he and his cousin were ‘sloppy’.

Fernando was now in the Mid North Coast Correctional Center (MNCCC) where he was housed in C Pod and employed in an upholstery shop with other maximum security offenders.

Lisa Brown was an inmate at the Mid North Coast Correctional Center when double murderer Vester Fernando attempted to murder another inmate. It sits in the pod where the April 2020 attack took place

On April 8, 2020, three days after Fernando turned 50, it erupted again.

That afternoon, Brown was called to C Pod after Fernando went on another frenzied stabbing rampage as he attempted to take the life of a third victim.

Brown, who was a senior officer in the prison’s textile workshop, knew Fernando because the prisoners she supervised were housed with those from the upholstery industry.

«Even though I didn’t spend much time with him, I had daily contact with him,» the 39-year-old mother told Daily Mail Australia during a tour of the prison.

«You generally feel the vibe in the air and especially when you’re working with the same cohort of inmates every day, you get to know their personalities and also sort of the little warning signs.»

Fernando was showing some of these signs, but his behavior was not so unusual that Brown had reason to believe he was ready to kill again.

«With Vester, he was always a bit of a loner and would do his own thing anyway,» she said.

«He seemed a little out of sorts. Nothing serious enough to report. And then the incident happened in C Pod.’

Vester Fernando (pictured) kidnapped, raped and murdered nurse Sandra Hoare in Walgett in north-west NSW in 1994 with his cousin Brendan Fernando. Five years later, Vester stabbed Brendan to death in prison.

Nicknamed «Uncle Vester», Fernando has been causing trouble since he arrived at MNCC, a maximum, medium and minimum security facility in Aldaville, 455km north of Sydney and 14km west of Kempsey.

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He particularly disliked the Pacific Islanders, spent much of his time in segregation and was considered difficult in C Pod, where he incited other Aboriginal prisoners.

Based on unwritten prison rules, Fernando’s third assassination attempt may have been deliberately timed to take place shortly before the inmates were locked up for the evening.

The ancients consider it bad form to make an attack earlier in the day, as innocent prisoners who share a pod or wing are likely to be sent back to their cells.

Prison customs also suggest that if an attack occurs in a common area rather than in a cell, the attacker wants to be stopped before he goes too far, but to last long enough for his message to spread.

The fact that Fernando did not want to be stopped was evident from CCTV footage which showed him leaving the cell with 26-year-old inmate Jack Wiffen.

Fernando, sometimes known as «Uncle Vester», has caused trouble since he arrived at MNCCC, a maximum, medium and minimum security prison in Aldaville, 455km north of Sydney and 14km west of Kempsey. The C Pod where it was placed is pictured above

When the two men were under the stairs, Fernando suddenly began stabbing Wiffen in the neck, chest and back with the prison staff.

As Wiffen writhed in a pool of blood, Fernando calmly walked away and dropped the gun. He bowed to the floor, put his hands behind his head, and surrendered.

More than a dozen officers swarmed as other inmates passed the scene, some barely pausing to look at the injured man, who had already stopped moving.

Brown was one of the crew members called to respond, along with the Immediate Action Team (IAT).

«When we got there, the first thing you saw was just blood,» she said.

“And Vester went through it, so it was spread everywhere. There was only blood from one end to the other.’

When the IAT team arrived at Fernando, he offered no resistance and was taken away in handcuffs.

Brown, who was left to protect the crime scene, was told that Fernando was surprised to learn that he was charged with attempted murder: he thought he had killed Wiffen.

CCTV footage shows Fernando stab inmate Jake Wiffen in the neck, chest and back after luring him out of his cell

The footage showed Fernando walking away from the stabbed prisoner writhing on the ground. Fernando then swiped his arm across the floor towards the approaching officers

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«With the rap sheet that he’s got, with a few murders on his hands, he probably just thought, ‘Well, I’m making a living,'» Brown said.

“I think what was probably a bit scary about it was how calm he was afterwards. He wasn’t frantic or emotionally charged. He was so calm and composed.’

Fernando might have been calm, but the prison staff didn’t know how the other inmates would react, and they were all escorted to the yard behind C Pod.

Vester Allan Fernando (pictured) is one of the state’s most notorious and difficult prisoners

«The inmates were pretty upset about it and pretty elated, they didn’t know what happened,» Brown said.

«There wasn’t a lot of opposition to the backyard, but they wanted to have a sticky beak and be a part of it.»

Wiffen was airlifted to John Hunter Hospital in Newcastle in a critical condition.

Fernando was charged with attempted murder and taken to Goulburn’s High Risk Management Correctional Center – Supermax, Australia’s most secure prison.

He subsequently pleaded guilty to grievous bodily harm with intent to murder and was jailed for a further 17 years.

Fernando is still in Supermax, where he continues to be problematic and will likely die there.

Another inmate, 28-year-old Atin Munro, who held the cell door open for Fernando, was charged with aiding and abetting murder, but was found not guilty.

«From what I was told by the other inmates, they were kind of saying (Munro) got into it,» Brown said.

Sandra Hoare was kidnapped and killed by Vester and Brendan Fernando in December 1994. Brendan Fernando (right) was killed in prison by Vester in September 1999

«He said to Vester, ‘Oh yeah, I’ll do it,’ but he didn’t understand the gravity of it and he didn’t understand what he was getting into.

“He was kind of just helping one of the boys and when it all unfolded he was shocked by what happened. I don’t think Vester told him exactly what was going to happen.’

Wiffen, who had no significant criminal record and was newly arrived at C pod, recovered from his injuries, but Fernando’s motive for attacking him remained unclear.

There were stories coming out of the nearby A Pod that Wiffen was seeing a young woman outside and Fernando did not approve of the relationship.

«I don’t think it was even true in the end,» Brown said. “It was all fueled by rumours, and I think Vester was at the forefront anyway.

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Fernando had a particular dislike for Pacific people and was considered difficult in C Pod, where he incited other indigenous prisoners. Pictured is pod in C Pod

“Whether it was the young lad for that or something else, it could have happened in the next few days. I think Vester had it in his head to offend.

«I think his head was there at the time, so whether it was (Wiffen) or somebody else, somebody had it.»

As for Brown, the stabbing had no real effect on her until long after the event.

«These are the consequences,» she said. “You realize that the victim who could have potentially died is somebody’s son and that’s the message we have to give to the family.

«Personally, I feel that I have become a little desensitized during my work in custody. Seeing blood and things like that doesn’t really affect me personally.»

Brown, who never suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder, was more affected by the impact of the stabbing on the victim’s fellow inmates.

‘A few days later a young Aboriginal boy came up to me and he just said, ‘I can’t sleep, I’m having nightmares about what happened’ because they were watching it all happen,’ she said.

Fernando stabs Wiffen under the stairs under the letter «C» in this C Under picture

“They were just going about their business and this happened right in front of them. So yes, I think it has an effect and I think it changed my career, that particular incident.’

Brown, who was honored for her dedicated service on National Corrections Day, traded in her prison uniform to work on the prison’s services and programs team.

‘I really had to sit down and think a bit: ‘Is there anything else I can do to help the people in our care?’ she said.

Brown doesn’t know if he can help everyone he meets, but he wants to help inmates understand the consequences of their actions and make better decisions.

She also became even more aware that she was looking for the prisoners’ red flags and triggers.

«That’s my advice to anyone new coming into the job because we’re happy,» Brown said.

«I really think it’s important to stop every once in a while and remember where you’re working and who you’re working with, because at any moment it can go to shit.»

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