A coronial inquest into the police response around the disappearance of Queensland teenager Daniel Morcombe has found officers could have done more early on in the investigation.
Queensland state coroner Terry Ryan handed down inquest findings on Friday, 15 years after 13-year-old Daniel first went missing on his way to buy Christmas presents in 2003.
Ryan told the court DNA samples taken from the car of Brett Peter Cowan – who was convicted in 2014 of murdering Morcombe – should have been given more priority by police.
Cowan is now serving a life sentence, however Ryan also said he wasn’t sure that the increased focus would have lead to an earlier arrest.
Cowan was a convicted child sex offender and while two police officers claimed at the inquest that their suspicions of Cowan had been rebuffed in 2003, the court found the accusations could not be proven. From Ryan:
I agree with the submissions from family and counsel assisting that more could have been done to focus on Mr Cowan in the early stages of the investigation. [That is] particularly having regard to his admissions that placed him at the scene of Daniel’s disappearance, the gaps in his alibi, and the specific nature of his offending history.”
The investigation carried out by Queensland Police was that largest undertaken in the history of the state. Ryan told the court it was clear that police had put significant resources towards the investigation.
Former QPS officer Dennis Martyn said he was told to “fuck off” by head of the homicide squad, Mike Condon, when he raised suspicions of Cowan.
Condon denied this ever happened.
State coroner Ryan said it was likely that Morcombe had been killed within an hour of his abduction and declared his death could not have been prevented by police.
Ryan recommended police introduce an independent review of homicide or suspicious high risk missing person investigation which are unsolved for 12 months or longer, and also called for an amendment to legislation that would ensure a time limit is imposed on testing human remains before they are returned to family.
Queensland Police said in a statement that it would thoroughly consider all aspects of the findings.
Speaking outside court, Bruce Morcombe said he agreed with the findings and that this chapter “is finally over.”
“The findings were very powerful in identifying a couple of areas where the Morcombe family had considered that Queensland police, in hindsight, could have done better,” he said.
“The Daniel Morcombe Foundation lives on, it is as strong as ever and it will continue to grow and do community work.“