2 February 2024

Inquest adjourned after murder charge in Ms Bernard disappearance

| Lyndon Keane
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Coen man Thomas Maxwell Byrnes is escorted by police across the tarmac in Cairns on 31 January, 2024 after being charged with one count of murder in relation to the 2013 disappearance of Kowanyama mother Ms Bernard. Photo: Supplied.

The coronial inquest tasked with looking into the 2013 disappearance of 23-year-old Ms Bernard and the competency of the subsequent police investigation will not reconvene next month following a murder charge being laid against the last person to see her.

The inquest, which began in Cairns in 2022, was scheduled to resume in Brisbane before Coroner Nerida Wilson on 19-23 February, 2024.

However, a spokesperson for the Coroners Court of Queensland confirmed to the Cape York Weekly that the process would be removed from the calendar until the court proceedings against Archer River quarry caretaker Thomas Maxwell Byrnes had concluded.

READ ALSO Coen man Thomas Maxwell Byrnes, 62, charged with murder of ‘proud and loving’ Kowanyama mother

On 31 January, 2024, police charged the 62-year-old Coen man with one count of murder relating to the Kowanyama mother’s disappearance nearly 11 years earlier.

“The coronial investigation and inquest has ceased until the conclusion of the police investigation and all court processes,” the spokesperson said.

“As required by the Coroners Act, the inquest previously scheduled to recommence 19 February, 2024 will now be delisted and adjourned to a date to be fixed.”

In a statement released following Mr Byrnes’ arrest, Ms Bernard’s family said they believed the inquest had played a vital role in putting pressure back on police to increase their investigative efforts.

“The pressure from our lawyer and then the coroner has ensured the police did their job, and to go back and follow up their failed investigation in 2013,” the statement reads.

Police have been criticised for their handling of the disappearance, and one of the focuses of the inquest is “the adequacy of the police investigation”.

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