Inquest into the death of Jessica Small
Melissa Heris, CSO Senior Solicitor, Inquiries
In 2013 and 2014, Deputy State Coroner Freund held the inquest into the disappearance and suspected death of Jessica Small. Melissa Heris had carriage of the matter, and Ian Bourke SC and CSO Solicitor Advocate Christopher McGorey appeared as Counsel Assisting the Coroner.
Jessica was 15 years old when she and her best friend accepted a lift from an unknown man in the centre of Bathurst at around 12.30am on Sunday 26 October 1997. Just before the car reached the girls' destination (a friend's house just outside the Bathurst CBD, in a semi-rural area), the driver pulled the car over and attacked them both. The girls escaped from the car, and ran towards the nearest house. Jessica's friend was in the lead, and believed Jessica to be running behind her because she could hear her screaming for help. Upon reaching the first available house, Jessica's friend woke the occupants, and then turned back towards the road. However, there was, by that stage, no sign of either Jessica or the car.
With the exception of one of two possible sightings of the car (and Jessica inside it) in the following 30 minutes in the surrounding area, Jessica has not been seen since. Her body has never been recovered.
The initial investigation was conducted by local police (from 1997 to 2003), and then the first 'Strike Force' investigation was run, again locally (from 2003 to 2006). The second Strike Force investigation, led by the current officer in charge, Detective Sergeant Peter Smith of the Homicide Squad, commenced in late 2007 and was very extensive and uncovered a vast quantity of contemporaneous material that had not been identified or sought by earlier investigators.
After a lengthy hearing during which a large number of witnesses were called from all States and Territories, Deputy State Coroner Freund delivered findings on 6 June 2014. Her Honour found that Jessica died on or after 26 October 1997. Her Honour also found that Jessica's death was suspicious, and that she died at the hands of a person or persons unknown. Her Honour then referred the matter back to the Unsolved Homicide Squad within the NSW Police Force.
Her Honour made the following recommendations to the Minister of Police and Justice of NSW, and the Attorney General of NSW, pursuant to s. 82 of the Coroners Act 2009:
1. Consideration be given to the NSW Government offering a substantial monetary reward for information leading to the conviction of any person or persons for the abduction and murder of Jessica Small. The sum should not (in her Honour's view) be less than $500,000; and
2. Consideration be given to implementing measures to achieve a closer liaison between the Missing Persons Unit and the Homicide Squad in relation to long term missing person's cases.