10 May 2023

Ten years too late: $500k to help find missing mum

| Matt Nicholls
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Detective Superintendent Sonia Smith announces a $500,000 reward for information regarding Ms Bernard’s disappearance.

THE Queensland government is putting up $500,000 as a reward for information that leads to the identification and conviction of anyone responsible for the disappearance of a Cape York mum.

A Kowanyama woman, now referred to as Ms Bernard, as per her family’s wishes, was last seen alive at the Archer River quarry on Sunday, February 10, 2013.

At the time, police did not treat her disappearance as suspicious, instead believing that she had walked away in the night.

The case went cold and police stopped searching for Ms Bernard until her family was able to lobby for a coronial inquest into her disappearance.

Since then, Queensland Police Service, facing embarrassment for its botching of the case, has scrambled to find out what happened to Ms Bernard.

Searches and investigations over the last 18 months have failed to yield results, prompting a $500,000 reward, which was announced by Detective Superintendent Sonia Smith last week.

“Ms Bernard was last seen at Archer River quarry on Sunday, the 10th of February 2013 at 11pm,” she said.

“She’d been seen at the Exchange Hotel in Coen that evening, and was expected to travel to Kowanyama, however never arrived,” she said.

Debbie Kilroy, a lawyer who represents Ms Bernard’s family, was critical of the timing.

“This reward should have been put up by Minister Mark Ryan and the Queensland Police Service a decade ago when she first disappeared,” she told ABC.

“Hopefully someone will come forward, but I still think it’s 10 years too late.”

After being ordered by the Northern Coroner Nerida Wilson to conduct another search, police deployed new drone and camera technology for a systematic search of the quarry area in 2021, along with officers on horseback and in four-wheel drives.

“This targeted search operation, along with further searches in the Coen area in late 2022, unfortunately did not advance investigations,” a QPS statement said.

At the reward announcement, Detective Superintendent Smith also read a statement from Ms Bernard’s family, which said the family was still devastated by her disappearance.

“Her absence continues to impact our lives and community,” she read.

“We acknowledge the announcement of the reward by the Police Minister, and we encourage anyone that has information that may assist investigations to come forward with that information.

“Family members deserve the respect of having the questions that surround her disappearance answered.”

Police Minister Mark Ryan said the reward was offered for information to assist in giving some answers and closure to Ms Bernard and her loved ones.

“I genuinely hope that this reward helps to provide answers for Ms Bernard, her family, friends and the community,” he said.

Ms Bernard’s death remains the subject of a coronial investigation, which will continue in Cairns on May 9.

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