North Coast murders go unsolved
NORTH Coast murder investigations are going unsolved due to a lack of resources according to the Police Association of NSW.
The association’s North Region executive officer Tony King said the lack of funding for homicide investigations was seriously impeding cases being solved.
It was also causing a massive drain on local area commands’ investigative resources, which in-turn affected all areas of regional policing, he said.
Detective King was responding to last week’s coronial report into the unsolved death of Lee Ellen Stace at Yamba in 1997.
Handing down the inquest findings in Grafton, NSW Deputy State Coroner Carl Milovanovich was highly critical of the ‘inordinate time’ taken to complete the investigation into Ms Stace’s death – though he had nothing but praise for local area command detectives.
He has recommended that homicide investigations in rural areas be managed, funded and resourced by a lead agency.
“Coroners are mindful that police resources are limited and there will always be competing priorities, however, it should never take 12 years to put a coronial brief together,” Magistrate Milovanovich said.
In his report he strongly recommended that a special task force or unit with sufficient resources be set up to investigate long term unsolved homicides and suspected homicides of missing persons.
Detective King said of all crimes, homicides had the most devastating effect on the immediate families of the victims and the community generally and therefore it was essential they be adequately funded and properly resourced.
“We’re not just talking about funding. Resourcing is paramount, you need people, experienced people,” he said.
“The Homicide Unit will come in from Sydney for the first 72 hours but after that it’s left to the locals.”
Detective King stressed the problem lay with the system rather than the State Crime Command or the Homicide Squad – which he praised for their professionalism and expertise.
The Police Association’s Lismore branch administrator Matt Kehoe agreed saying many local investigations were hamstrung by the lack of resources.
“Homicide investigations place a massive burden on local detectives and drag them away from their core business of day-to-day investigations,” he said.
He believes difficult unsolved cases such as the Lois Roberts and Bronwyn Winfield investigations required more support than local detectives could provide.
“Once all leads and avenues of inquiry are exhausted that’s where we struggle,” he said explaining that the Homicide Squad had to retire at that point.
“Really, it is at that point we need those resources to go that extra step.
“Our only avenue after that is the Unsolved Homicide Squad but that is usually after a Coronial Inquiry and can be 10 to 15 years after the crime.
“We need to look at something in between that.
“I’ve investigated matters where that support would have helped enormously.”
Detective Kehoe cited the recent breakthroughs in the Saaid Zaiter case, where Homicide Squad support was sustained, as an example of how the system could work with adequate resources.