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Morcombes overlook police shortcomings

AAP logoAAP 14/12/2016 Sarah Motherwell

Daniel Morcombe was treated as a runaway teenager, possible DNA taken from his killer's car was left untested and investigators spent years chasing red herrings.

But despite a series of police shortcomings, parents Bruce and Denise Morcombe concede they may have never found their son's body if Brett Peter Cowan had been arrested any earlier.

The coronial inquest into Daniel's death heard on its final day on Thursday that Cowan had luck on his side from the moment he snatched the 13-year-old from a Sunshine Coast kerb on December 7, 2003.

Counsel assisting, Peter Johns, said officers at Maroochydore station inappropriately assumed Daniel was a "teenage runaway" when he was reported missing, but their actions were consistent with police policy at the time.

Tragically Daniel was dead before anyone realised he had disappeared.

Cowan's 2014 trial in the Brisbane Supreme Court heard the schoolboy was almost certainly killed within an hour of being taken, asphyxiated by his abductor as he resisted his sexual advances.

The convicted pedophile was one of the 33 persons of interest initially identified in Daniel's case but the inquest heard he was not put under surveillance despite the strong belief of detectives Dennis Martyn and Kenneth King that he was the key suspect.

Queensland Assistant Police Commissioner Mike Condon told the inquest on Wednesday there was not enough evidence to direct resources towards investigating Cowan and there was really only a "gut feeling" about his involvement.

The inquest also heard police spent a lot of time chasing an "enormous red herring" - a blue car that was witnessed by more than 80 people at the abduction site.

Cowan's car was white.

Police did examine Cowan's vehicle on Christmas Eve but hair taken from the seats and boot was not tested properly for DNA until 2011 because the state did not previously have the technology, the court heard.

Mr Johns said there was no evidence of a conspiracy in the investigation into Cowan.

"Cowan was incredibly lucky in managing to coax Daniel away without leaving any forensic evidence or being identified in a more definitive matter," Mr Johns said.

"He had no prospect of ever being caught for this offence unless he admitted himself to having done it and shown police exactly where he had placed Daniel's body."

Mr Johns said the elaborate sting operation that resulted in Cowan's confession was noteworthy, as was the tireless efforts of Daniel's parents who have successfully campaigned for so much child safety reform there was little that the coroner could recommend.

Outside court, Bruce and Denise Morcombe said their first priority had always been to find their son's remains.

"Who was guilty and who was responsible for that crime for us was always second priority," Mr Morcombe said.

"It is a very sad answer, but it is an answer.

"If indeed there was an earlier arrest of Cowan we may never have (found) Daniel."

The coroner is expected to deliver his findings next year.

Cowan is serving a life sentence after being found guilty and has exhausted his appeal options.

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