10 May 2023

New search ordered for missing Cape York mum

| Cape York Weekly
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INSTEAD of providing a grieving family with answers, the coronial inquest into the disappearance of Allison Bernard has raised serious questions about the police investigation.

Coroner Nerida Wilson has ordered Queensland Police to undertake a fresh search for the Kowanyama mother.

Ms Bernard was last seen alive in February 2013 leaving the Exchange Hotel in Coen with Thomas Byrnes.

The 23-year-old is believed to have disappeared between Archer River, near Coen on her way to her hometown Kowanyama.

The coroner directed QPS to search a property, known as The Bend, where Mr Byrnes previously lived. It’s a location the police initially refused to search.

Police will also search nearby mine shafts and start afresh excavation site at the Archer River quarry dam, closest to Mr Byrnes’ former residence.

The coroner has requested the search be conducted within the next four months and a report be prepared for the next inquest sittings later this year.

Queensland Police Commissioner Katarina Carroll will also be required to review the adequacy and governance of the police investigation into Ms Bernard’s disappearance

“Their (QPS) failings of the investigation came out in this inquest. They did the bare minimum and wiped their hands of it,” women’s advocate and Sisters Inside CEO Debbie Kilroy told NITV News.

“It was just disgusting and heartbreaking for the family to listen to how they didn’t investigate Ms Bernard’s death appropriately and it’s distressing knowing the person of interest was directing the police search.

“Ms Bernard’s mum said to me yesterday, ‘why didn’t they search The Bend first?’ And she’s absolutely right.

“When we got the brief of evidence following their search we could see very clearly that The Bend was an issue and that it had never been searched.

Ms Kilroy said Ms Bernard’s family were never adequately kept up to date by police about what was happening with the investigation.

During the final days of the inquest last week, Mr Byrnes repeatedly denied having anything to do with the disappearance.

“I’m sure after having sat through what I’ve previously called very challenging and distressing evidence and understanding there are still some loose ends that I feel we will all benefit from and most importantly that I think (Ms Bernard)will benefit from, it seems to me that it will be time well spent and it has a very specific and very clear direction,” Ms Wilson said, bringing an end to the second part of the inquest.

Ms Kilroy says despite not getting the answers they were hoping for, she will continue to fight for justice with Ms Bernard’s family.

“Her family have been strong advocates in demanding justice from the depths of their grief,” she said.

“They just want to know where the body is so that she can be bought home.”

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