THE State Coroner has heard that the police have no leads into the death of a man who was found in the Maribyrnong River in July 2011.
Michael Atakelt was 22 years old when he went missing on 26 June 2011. His body was retrieved from the Maribyrnong River in Ascot Vale eleven days later, on 7 July.
In February, the Coroner suspended the inquest into his death and directed the police to reinvestigate with a different detective in charge.
In a hearing yesterday, Acting Senior Sergeant Peter Tatter-Rendlemann, from the Hobsons Bay crime investigation unit, told the Coroner’s court that there were no witnesses or evidence about what happened during the period Atakelt was missing. “I have nothing so far that can shed any light as to what may have occurred,” he said.
Atakelt’s father, Getachew Seyoum said he now believed the inquest would not provide any answers about how his son died. “From now, my hope to find the truth is diminishing,” he said.
The police initially claimed that Atakelt had entered the river near the Smithfield bridge in Footscray, several kilometres downstream from where the body was found. But at the inquest in February, Sergeant George Dixon, from the water police, said it was not possible for a body to float such a distance upstream.
The case has been controversial, especially among the Ethiopian and other African-Australian communities, ever since Atakelt’s body was found nearly two years ago.
In December 2011, the assistant commissioner responsible for the north-west metro region, Stephen Fontana, assured a public meeting in North Melbourne that the original brief prepared for the Coroner was “a very thorough investigation”. He said it had been overseen by both the homicide squad and the ethical standards department, and that he had “total confidence” in the Footscray police officer responsible, Detective Senior Constable Tim McKerracher.
However, the Coroner heard today that CCTV footage from various locations near where Atakelt went missing was no longer available. It was not accessed during the original investigation.
Last month, the police made a new appeal for any witnesses to provide information through Crime Stoppers and displayed posters around Flemington and Ascot Vale. But Acting Senior Sergeant Tatter-Rendlemann said no new witnesses had come forward.
The inquest has been scheduled to re-commence on 26 August.
For background, read the other articles I’ve written about this matter: ‘Between two oceans’, ‘Watching a hearing’, ‘Coroner tells police to reinvestigate death’ and ‘Changing a whole system : racialised policing in Melbourne‘.