Bruce and Denise Morcombe arrive at the Federal Court in Brisbane earlier this year. They returned to Brisbane yesterday as the inquest into Daniel's death resumed.
Bruce and Denise Morcombe arrive at the Federal Court in Brisbane earlier this year. They returned to Brisbane yesterday as the inquest into Daniel's death resumed. DAN PELED

Could Daniel's killer have been caught earlier?

SOMEWHERE, in the storm of uncertainty that followed the disappearance of Daniel Morcombe, his killer, in plain sight of police and the Sunshine Coast community, was missed.

The sadistic pedophile and now convicted murderer Brett Peter Cowan roamed freely while the parents of the kidnapped teenager embarked on a journey that would one day change the way Australian schools and families responded to the threat of strangers.

Daniel's ultimate legacy and the eventual arrest and conviction of Cowan are recognised by his family, police and the wider community as the silver lining in one of the darkest cases in the nation's history.

But the question remains as to whether the methods used by police throughout the historic investigation best served the Morcombes and perhaps most importantly, the families that will follow them.

An inquest looking at what, if anything, could have been done better and the length of time it took to bring Cowan to justice, resumed in Queensland's Coroner's Court on Wednesday.

Much of the early evidence came from two former police officers who told the court they had struggled to understand why Cowan was not placed under surveillance after he was identified as a likely culprit in Daniel's disappearance two weeks into the investigation.

Former Detective Senior Constable Kenneth King said he believed the fact that Cowan was a convicted sex offender with a history "consistent with being the kind of person who would abduct a child from a roadside", that he was the owner of a white car which was possibly seen by two witnesses near the bus stop, that he had recently shaved off a goatee beard and had a 45-minute gap in his alibi, should have elevated him to "key suspect" in the investigation.

His then colleague, former Detective Sergeant Dennis Martyn, said he too believed that out of the 20-plus sex offenders he had been tasked to interview on the Sunshine Coast, Cowan was the only one who had the motive and the lack of alibi.

The two men claimed they had written a seven-page report and briefed more than 30 officers in person about their concerns in relation to Cowan and questioned why police had not focused their resources on him.

Queensland Assistant Commissioner Mick Condon, the lead homicide detective in the Daniel Morcombe investigation, said that while it was easy for "armchair critics" to look back and raise questions given what was now known about Cowan, there was simply not enough evidence to pursue him as the key suspect at the time.

He said Cowan's criminal history of coaxing young boys away and sexually assaulting them was "interesting" to police but a "gut feeling" of the officers who had interviewed the known pedophile was not enough to justify an arrest.

He also rejected the suggestion the white car evidence should have been further investigated, stressing that more than 80 witnesses had described seeing two men and a blue sedan.

"There was no direct evidence implicating Cowan in that offence," Asst Comm Condon said

"My job is to apply finite resources to where I think the information is taking us.

"I make no apologies for those decisions I made. They were made in good faith and I stand by them."

Outside court, Bruce Morcombe said while it was "very unnerving" to hear that some officers suspected Cowan from the beginning, the purpose of the inquest was not to criticise police but examine how the time delays impacted the investigation.

The inquest continues.


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