Why has it taken so long?
ASPECTS of the 12-year police investigation into the murder of Brooms Head teenager Lee Ellen Stace have drawn fire from the deputy State Coroner Carl Milovanovich.
Yesterday the deputy coroner handed down an open finding into the death of Lee Stace, who disappeared after finishing work on the afternoon of September 2, 1997. Her remains were found six weeks later at Red Cliff, only a few kilometres from her home.
Mr Milovanovich found that Lee Stace died at Red Cliff on the same day she went missing, from injuries inflicted by a person or persons unknown. He said the evidence presented did not allow him to make a finding as to the direct cause of death.
The deputy coroner was highly critical of the length of time the police have taken to bring a brief of evidence to the coroner and their attitudes to missing persons investigations.
"If a 16-year-old child disappeared today in similar circumstances, the professionalism and priorities of the NSW Police and the manner of the investigation would be far different to what happened in 1997," he said.
"Regrettably in 1997 and even more recently, NSW Police have not always attached the appropriate concern and or a holistic approach to missing persons."
In an implied criticism of police resourcing of this investigation and others, the coroner said, 'it should never take 12 years to put a coronial brief together'.
The coroner was unstinting in his praise of the work of the current head of the investigation, Detective Senior Constable Tony King.
"Det King should be commended for the tireless work he has done in putting such a massive brief of evidence together ... and he has done that virtually on his own with only token assistance from time to time from other agencies."
The coroner has made a number of recommendations to the Police Commissioner. He wants:
- A special task force, perhaps under the auspices of the Homicide Unit, to investigate long-term unsolved murders.
- Murder investigations in rural areas be managed by a lead agency to prepare briefs for the coroner.
- Priority for continuing investigation into the death of Lee Stace, using the expertise and knowledge of Det King.
- A reward of $200,000 for information leading to the conviction of any one involved in Lee Stace's death.