Amanda Therese ROBINSON
*Editor's note - yes, I know I shouldn't be using this copyrighted photo so if the owner would like to donate the original copy to the website, I will be most grateful!
The State Coroner, John Abernethy, lashed out yesterday at the handling of the original investigations into three missing women, saying it was extraordinary that leads were never followed up, statements never taken and detectives taken off the unsolved cases.
He said he could not understand why it had taken 23 years for the disappearances - presumed murders - to be referred to a coroner.
Nor could he understand how the investigations were "shut down" and had "died" within a year of the women going missing.
Leanne Goodall, 20, Robyn Hickie, 18, and Amanda Robinson, 14, disappeared between December 1978 and April 1979 while waiting for or getting off buses at bus stops on the Pacific Highway in Newcastle. In the case of Ms Goodall, a formal investigation was never launched.
At the inquest yesterday, Mr Abernethy asked Norm Sheather, who was in charge of Newcastle district detectives at the time, why the Goodall disappearance was never looked at by a detective.
"I don't know. It should have been," said Mr Sheather, now retired.
Mr Sheather also could not give a reason why further lines of inquiry were never followed up in relation to Amanda Robinson and Ms Hickie and why the investigations had "died" by the end of 1979.
In a dramatic outburst, Mr Abernethy said detectives should have analysed the cases after two years and, given they were unsolved and resources had been withdrawn, referred them to a coroner.
Mr Abernethy: "Could I suggest that no-one, you nor anybody else, did that analysis and these cases just slipped through the cracks?"
Mr Sheather: "Well, that's the way it appears."
Mr Abernethy: "What I want to ascertain is whether these cases are just because of the system or the leadership of criminal investigations in those days. Nothing was done to finish them off, one way or the other."
Mr Sheather said his position was "virtually administration," and it was the responsibility of the then divisional officer, Mervyn Squires, who supervised the detectives.
Mr Abernethy said he found it "incredibly difficult" to accept that as head of Newcastle region detectives Mr Sheather was not responsible for overseeing the investigation.
Mr Abernethy: "You are suggesting on oath the buck stopped with Sergeant Squires?"
Mr Sheather later conceded he was responsible for ensuring the integrity of the investigation and the allocation of resources, and it was up to him or Sergeant Squires to refer the matters to the coroner.
He did not know why two detectives who were sent from Sydney to investigate the Amanda Robinson abduction were recalled after just two weeks.
The inquest continues.
A deputy state coroner, Carl Milovanovich, will hear police evidence about the women, Gillian Jamieson and Deborah Balken, last seen at a Parramatta hotel in 1980.
Milat was previously named at inquests into the disappearance of young women and couples from the North Shore and the Hunter dating back to the late 1970s. Unlike on those occasions, Milat, 60, will not be given a day out of Goulburn's high-security Supermax prison to give evidence.
The parents and other relatives of the two nurses are expected to attend the day-long hearing at the Westmead Coroner's Court. Detectives are expected to detail for the first time undisclosed information on police efforts to find the women, who were both 20 when they disappeared.
In 2001 Milat angrily denied at an inquest at Toronto Local Court that he was responsible for the disappearances of Robyn Hickie, 17, Amanda Robinson, 14, and Leanne Goodall, 20, all from Newcastle, who vanished separately in the Hunter in 1978 and 1979.
In August he was named by police at an inquest before Mr Milovanovich as the person most likely to have killed the Berowra schoolgirl Michelle Pope, 18, and her boyfriend, Stephen Lapthorne, 21, who vanished along with their green van from northern Sydney in August 1978. Neither the vehicle nor their bodies have been found.
For the past three years a team of Parramatta detectives has re-examined the disappearances of Ms Balken and Ms Jamieson. They were last seen with a man wearing a floppy black cowboy hat in a back bar of the Tollgate Hotel in Church Street, Parramatta, at 7.30pm on June 12, 1980.
Detectives interviewed Milat a year ago inside the Supermax prison, where he is serving a life sentence for the abduction, stabbing and shooting murders of five women and two men in the Belanglo State Forest in the Southern Highlands between 1978 and 1992.
Milat, who was working in 1980 at the Granville depot of the then Department of Main Roads, is understood to have been interviewed about his movements and vehicles he owned, including a lime green Valiant Charger sedan.
As in previous investigations into other missing women or couples in which Milat has featured since 2001, police have been frustrated by the fact that no bodies have been found.