Former policeman Wayne Magann shares the frustrations of other officers who have investigated the death of Lee Stace.
Former policeman Wayne Magann shares the frustrations of other officers who have investigated the death of Lee Stace.

Stace case run badly: former cop

THE former head of the police investigation into the 1997 murder of Brooms Head teenager Lee Ellen Stace says the early stages of the operation were characterised by shoddy police work and lost opportunities to put pressure on key suspects.

He said these early failings became coupled to a failure to adequately resource the investigation when it reopened in 2002.

Former senior sergeant Gary McEvoy came from Sydney in 2004 to head the Stace operation and continued in that role until the end of 2006, when he resigned from the police force.

He said police gathered much information in the weeks immediately following the disappearance of Lee Stace and when her remains were discovered six weeks later.

"The police did a lot of work gathering information, but they did a shoddy job of record keeping," Mr McEvoy said.

"Evidence they gathered was often just thrown into a box and tossed into a corner of the police station.

"They weren't following up on leads that this information opened up for them."

Mr McEvoy said it became obvious early in the investigation that there were four main suspects and one stood out among these.

"They had the opportunity to put pressure on a key suspect by carrying out more sophisticated investigations," he said.

"They could have put him under surveillance and planted listening devices, but for some reason none of this was done."

When Mr McEvoy took over the operation in 2004 he had only one detective, the current head of the operation, Detective Senior Constable Tony King, working under him.

"They needed to have a team of detectives on a case like this," Mr McEvoy said.

He said several times Det King was taken off the case over Christmas and then had to get the investigation back up and running.

On Thursday another former policeman, Wayne Magann, was in Grafton Court House, listening to deputy State Coroner Carl Milovanovich, hand down his findings.

His criticism of police handling of aspects of the investigation was music to Mr Magann's ears.

Mr Magann was a detective-sergeant at Grafton during the early stages of the Stace investigation.

"I was one of the original investigators in the Stace murder," he said.

"After the initial investigation which the crime manager from Coffs Harbour was in charge of, it was then left to me to follow up inquiries."

Mr Magann has plenty of sympathy with Det King, who the coroner said was left to complete the inquiry on his own.

"Exactly as the coroner has indicated, Det King was left to complete this matter virtually on his own. The same was said for myself when I was investigating it. The then crime manager left the matter entirely for myself.

"Request upon request for assistance was denied and the matter was virtually shelved and left to be investigated when time permitted.

"It appears to me that the NSW Police Force, not only in this matter, but in most areas and major matters, now have lost their way in relation to criminal investigation.

"It appears they are now led by a budget and budgetary constraints are more important than the investigation of serious crime."

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