‘Inexcusable’ errors in search for missing teen

An inquest has uncovered ‘inexcusable’ errors made by police in the search for a teenager who was believed missing for decades.

The case file of teenage girl Ursula Barwick, who was considered missing for decades after being misidentified in a car accident, lay untouched by police for more than a decade in part due to a data entry error, an inquest has been told.

Ursula was 17 when she disappeared in 1987, her loving family left with no clues about what happened to her.

In 2018, it was revealed a young woman who died in a car accident on October 27, 1987, who was previously thought to be named Jessica Pearce, was in fact Ursula.

The NSW Coroner’s Court was told on Monday there was no activity recorded on Ursula’s police file from at least March 1988 until March 1999.

In 1994, she was mistakenly marked “located” due to a data entry error as the system switched from paper to computers. The mistake was not discovered until 1999, the inquest was told.

“I couldn’t give you an answer (why there was no investigation),” Sergeant Amy Scott, who took on Ursula’s file in 2014, told the NSW Coroner’s Court on Monday.

“Other than the period after 1994 when she was listed as located, that would probably explain that five-year gap.

“But prior to that, I don’t think there’s a reasonable answer as to why nothing was done.”

She said it was “inexcusable” that police failed to take statements about Ursula’s disappearance from relevant people between 1987 and 2014 when she and Detective Sergeant Kurt Hayward were assigned to the case.

Ursula’s case is one of four missing persons investigations under the microscope at an inquest before deputy state coroner Derek Lee.

Mr Lee is looking at whether police processes were adequate and if DNA could have been better employed.

He is seeking to answer, among other questions, whether these people’s remains could have been identified earlier, giving their families answers about what had happened to them.

Counsel assisting the coroner Adam Casselden SC briefly outlined the three other cases on Monday morning.

Gary Jones, an accountant, was 27 when he vanished from Rosebery in November 1990. In 2019, his DNA profile was linked to remains found at Little Bay in Sydney the same month he disappeared.

Christof Meier drowned while swimming at Broken Head Beach in rough conditions in 2002. His body was never found, but his DNA was later linked to a discovered tibia bone.

Lionel Daveson disappeared in 2007, and it was believed he was homeless and living in Queensland at the time, the inquest was told.

But he is now thought to have died by suicide in the Watsons Bay area, with three bodies unable to be excluded as his remains, Mr Casselden said.

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