She deserved better, teen's inquest told

·3-min read

For three decades, Ursula Barwick's family held out hope of finding the missing teenager - oblivious that she'd been laid to rest in an unmarked grave.

"She deserved better than that," stepmother Elizabeth Barwick told the NSW Coroners Court on Monday.

"Everything was there in front of (police).

"She was just discarded, not enough was put into it."

The 17-year-old's death - in a car crash in southern NSW weeks after she was reported missing in September 1987 - was only confirmed by a NSW coroner in 2018.

The same NSW coroner on Monday began examining the litany of mistakes police made in the search for the bright and rebellious teenager and what steps were taken to find three other long-term missing persons also recently matched to old remains.

The police officer who eventually closed Ursula's case told the inquest it was "inexcusable" that no record could be found of active steps taken in the case before 2014.

Ursula was also mistakenly marked "located" from 1994 to 1999 due to a data entry error.

"I don't believe reasonable steps were taken," Sergeant Amy Scott, who began investigating the case in 2014, told the inquest on Monday.

"I didn't have one statement handed over to me."

Similarly, the officer who'd tried to identify Ursula's body had apparently not spoken to those who survived the car crash and instead took the word of a Kings Cross sex worker who'd identified Ursula as her 25-year-old friend Jessica Pearce.

"Police may have been overworked and may have wanted an end to the investigation," Sgt Scott said.

Ursula is believed to have travelled to Kings Cross after her disappearance and joined a group of "street kids".

Like Ursula, Sydney man Gary Jones was given a destitute burial, the inquest was told.

The 27-year-old was reported missing in November 1990 but it took until 2019 to link him to the remains found in Little Bay in May 1990.

Another DNA match in 2019 finally linked a tibia bone found in 2006 to Christof Meier, a 30-year-old who drowned in Broken Bay in 2002.

Meanwhile, three unidentified bodies cannot be excluded as possibly being that of Lionel Daveson.

The then-27-year-old is now considered to have fallen at Watsons Bay shortly after going missing in August 2007.

The inquest, expected to run three weeks, will examine the adequacy "or otherwise" of the police investigations and recent initiatives to improve missing persons investigations, counsel assisting Adam Casselden SC said on Monday.

Each officer must fill in mandatory questions when filing a missing person report and the file is reviewed within days by the revamped Missing Persons Registry.

The MPR this month launched a pilot program to collect DNA samples from relatives of missing persons so they will be searched against the Unidentified Bodies Index.

"However, the evidence also demonstrates additional steps could be taken," Mr Casselden said.

Coroner Derek Lee is expected to hear from police and DNA experts from Australia and overseas.

Ms Barwick told reporters outside court she hoped Ursula would inadvertently lead to change.

"Hopefully, other families won't have to wait 27 years for answers," she said.