'LIP SERVICE': Coroner attacks top cops in murder case
A CORONER has criticised senior police officers, accusing them of "paying lip service" on promises to further investigate the brutal 1987 murder of Bundaberg taxi driver Bryan Hodgkinson.
Although Magistrate David O'Connell's inquest findings were no closer to solving the case, questions were raised about why senior police never pursued calls for deeper investigations.
Mr O'Connell said despite a "thorough review" into the case by Detective Sergeant Wiggins in 2014, recommendations for further investigations were little more than "rubber stamped" by senior officers.
"His review was then sent 'up the chain of command' where ... more senior officers simply 'rubber-stamped' that those further investigations should occur but the reality is no-one did anything," Mr O'Connell said.
"Worse, senior officers actually simply rubber-stamped the earlier rubber-stamp recommending that further investigations should progress, but still nothing occurred."
Mr O'Connell said it was only after the matter reached the Coroners Court of Queensland that the "necessary investigations occurred".
"It may be that nothing was lost in those few years, but there is no explanation, possibly because there is no adequate explanation, as to why the Queensland Police Service did not move the investigation forward other than paying lip service to agreeing for action to be taken."
Mr O'Connell could not say which of the "two main persons of interest" was responsible for Mr Hodgkinson's murder, as he was left "with a doubt".
"... but in my mind the two theories proposed to me, one that involved Mr Paul Sutherland and the one that involved Mr Gary Rasmussen, each had their strengths and weaknesses, which on the available evidence I cannot resolve satisfactorily," he said.
"There was no suggestion that there was any sufficient evidence to charge any person for any Criminal Code offence."
However, Mr O'Connell said the possibility of anyone else having committed the murder "is eliminated in my mind".
Mr Hodgkinson's body was found on September 10, 1987, near Goodwood, riddled with stab wounds and blows to the head. Mr Rasmussen died in 1993 from a drug overdose.
Though the inquest did nothing to clarify who murdered Mr Hodgkinson, his sister Doris Hillier said she was thankful Mr O'Connell critiqued the way police handled calls for further investigations.
"We weren't expecting to get full closure because no more evidence has come forward," Mrs Hillier said.
"One thing I was stoked about was he was very, very critical of how police handled the case, they were asked to do things but when it came time to do it, they didn't do it."
Mr O'Connell is calling for changes to be made by the Attorney-General to the 2003 Coroners Act to prevent people claiming privileges during inquests into offences committed prior to the act's implementation.
The Coroners Act 2003 allowed Anthony Beer, who was initially charged in relation to Mr Hodgkinson's death with accessory after the fact to murder, robbery with actual violence, unlawful use of a motor vehicle and wilful damage, to claim privilege on "the basis his evidence may tend to incriminate him".
"As this was an inquest under the Coroners Act 1958 he was excused from giving any further evidence," Mr O'Connell said.
The charges against Mr Beer were later dropped.
"Accordingly, I will refer the matter of the continued application of the Coroners Act 1958 to the Attorney-General for consideration as to provide an amendment to the Coroners Act 2003 to ensure that all inquests (including inquests part-heard, or inquests to be reopened), no matter when the death occurred, now come within the ambit of the 2003."
Mr Hodgkinson's niece Jodie Hillier said she was "praying that the Attorney-General takes on board and changes the Coroners Act so no other family has to go through what we have." A Queensland Police spokesperson said they acknowledged the Coroner's findings, and "due consideration is currently being given to the findings".