He admitted burying his boyfriend’s body. He directed police to its whereabouts. He lied repeatedly under oath. But because of double-jeopardy laws and deal struck with police, murder suspect Michael Atkins will never go to prison for his actions.
The story so far
Matthew Leveson was just 20 when he died in 2007 after a night out with his boyfriend, Michael Atkins, at a nightclub in Darlinghurst.
A coronial inquest began shortly after Matthew’s disappearance, but was suspended in 2009 when Mr Atkins was put on trial for murder.
The prosecution faced an uphill battle in court as Michael’s body had not yet been found. Atkins elected not to take the witness stand and a jury ultimately found Mr Atkins not guilty.
Mr Atkins was, however, compelled to take the stand and face the music when the coronial inquest recommenced in 2015.
The resumed inquest
At the recent conclusion of the inquest, Magistrate Elaine Truscott made 72 separate references to Atkins’ repeated lies under oath – which could ordinarily trigger a prosecution for perjury.
During the course of the latter part of the inquest, Her Honour received important fresh evidence including CCTV footage of Mr Atkins leaving a hardware store after buying a mattock and duct tape.
Some time after being cleared of the murder, Atkins admitted burying the body of his former partner and drew a map of the Royal National Park, south of Sydney, indicating the location. The decomposed corpse was eventually found buried under a palm tree “in the last hour of daylight on the last day of the Coronial Scene Investigation Order”.
After extensive testing and examination, a forensic pathologist reported that while most of the injuries occurred post-mortem, a small number may have been inflicted before death.
Forensics could not determine the cause of death.
Immunity from prosecution for perjury
A deal struck with police means Atkins cannot be prosecuted for perjury, despite lying repeatedly about knowing where the body was, and burying it, and lying throughout the inquest about a range of other matters.
The victim’s family agreed to the immunity deal, saying they just wanted to know where their son was.
Her Honour explained that, “…given the deal struck with Police, Mr Atkins was free to say whatever he liked about what happened to Matt, his only obligation was to tell police the truth about where Matt was buried so his remains could be recovered. In striking the deal, he will never be prosecuted for perjury.”
Fresh murder charges?
The immunity deal did not extend to the offence of murder.
However, the fact Atkins has already been tried and acquitted of murder means a retrial could only be ordered if the NSW Court of Criminal were satisfied that “fresh and compelling evidence” had emerged.
Given the inconclusiveness of the forensic evidence, and the absence of a fresh witness or confession, it is highly unlikely a retrial would be ordered by the court.
In all of this, there is a family whose grief has been compounded by a long and drawn out legal process.
And while Matthew’s body has now been recovered and given a proper burial, the uncertainty surrounding the young man’s death remains.
Indeed, many are of the view that justice has not been served and more should be done to give the family closure.