It has been more than 15 years since Daniel Morcombe was abducted and murdered by Brett Peter Cowan.
It has been more than 15 years since Daniel Morcombe was abducted and murdered by Brett Peter Cowan.

Morcombe inquest: Not enough attention on Cowan

THE State Coroner has found more could have been done to focus on serial pedophile Brett Cowan in the early stages of the Daniel Morcombe investigation.

At the conclusion of a long-running inquest - that began nine years ago - Coroner Terry Ryan made no specific recommendations in relation to the police investigation that eventually resulted in Cowan charged and convicted of the 13-year-old's murder.

But he called for changes to police procedures in that unsolved high risk homicides or missing persons cases be independently reviewed after 12 months and that changes are made to the Criminal Code allowing for human remains to be returned to families in a more timely manner.

Daniel disappeared in 2003 from the side of the Nambour Connection Road while waiting for a bus that would take him to the Sunshine Plaza.

But when the bus broke down, Cowan, an opportunistic offender, pulled into a nearby church and joined Daniel on the roadside.

He lured Daniel into his car, offering to take him to the shopping centre where the schoolboy had planned to get a haircut and buy Christmas presents for his family.

Bruce and Denise Morcombe say listening to Brett Peter Cowan speak in court will haunt them foever. Picture: Liam Kidston
Bruce and Denise Morcombe say listening to Brett Peter Cowan speak in court will haunt them foever. Picture: Liam Kidston

Cowan hit the police radar two weeks into the investigation when he was included on a list of known child sex offenders.

Detectives sought out pedophiles known to frequent the area and asked them for their whereabouts on the day Daniel disappeared - December 7.

Cowan admitted to having driven past the scene of Daniel's disappearance but police at the time believed he would not have had time to abduct a child and hide his body.

An inquest into Daniel's disappearance began in 2010 but was halted when police began an ambitious covert operation that would eventually lead to Cowan confessing to officers he believed were part of a criminal gang.

The hearing resumed in 2016 following Cowan's trial and conviction.

"Having regard to the fact that it is over 15 years since Daniel disappeared, and over five years since Mr Cowan was convicted, I do not consider that it is necessary or helpful to retrospectively evaluate every element of the Queensland Police Service investigation," Coroner Ryan said.

"It is clear that the QPS devoted very significant resources to the investigation.

"At times there were over 100 police officers dedicated solely to finding Daniel.

"Investigators attached to the Major Incident Room were required to make judgements in relation to thousands of pieces of information flowing in from the community, and investigators in the field following up specific lines of inquiry."

He said there were 30 persons of interest, including multiple people who had confessed to abducting and killing Daniel.

Coroner Ryan said the focus on a blue car - described by many witnesses - was "justified", although it was later found to have not been involved.

Daniel Morcombe’s killer Brett Peter Cowan.
Daniel Morcombe’s killer Brett Peter Cowan.

In relation to claims made by two detectives, Kenneth King and Dennis Martyn, that they asked for Cowan to be more thoroughly investigated, Coroner Ryan said there was insufficient evidence that they provided the Major Incident Room with anything more than an three-page report after visiting the serial pedophile at his home.

He said tape lifts taken from Cowan's car two weeks after Daniel's disappearance should have been tested earlier. They were not tested for many years.

"I consider that those items should have been prioritised and the subject of much earlier examination," Coroner Ryan said.

"Mr Cowan was an accomplished liar and his alibi, although not strong, could not be rebutted.

Coroner Ryan said information provided to the family court in 2006 led to police being able to re-examine Cowan's alibi.

"It is clear from the evidence provided by the QPS that Mr Cowan remained a person of interest throughout the investigation," he said.

However, Mr Ryan said it was a review conducted by Detective Senior Constable Grant Linwood that showed Cowan's drug dealer was at a local RSL at a time when he claimed to be visiting her.

"It is speculative to suggest this evidence might have been obtained sooner by pressing Mr Cowan for a more precise account of his movements on December 7, 2003, before the inquest commenced," he said.

Coroner Ryan found that Daniel was murdered by way of "asphyxiation as a consequence of neck compression".

He said many changes to police procedures had been made since Daniel disappeared, many of them due to "the advocacy and work of Mr and Mrs Morcombe and the Daniel Morcombe Foundation".

He paid tribute to the Morcombes, saying they had been "relentless" in their pursuit for justice for their son.

Mr Ryan's two recommendations:

I recommend that the Queensland Police Service's Operational Procedures Manual be amended to mandate an independent review in circumstances of a homicide or suspicious high risk missing person investigation remaining unsolved for a period of 12 months after the commencement of the investigation.

I recommend that the Queensland Government amend the Criminal Code to ensure a time limit is imposed on the testing of human remains in circumstances where the prosecution and defence fail to reach agreement on the identity of the deceased.