Matthew Leveson’s father Mark wears his grief on his body.
His forearms are inked with tattoos that say “Death leaves a heartache that no-one can heal. Love leaves a memory that no-one can steal”.
An extensive inquiry left deputy state coroner Elaine Truscott “unable to positively determine — to the requisite standard — how or why Matt died”.
The man who buried his body 10 years ago and lied about it for more than nine years will not be going to jail, because of a deal made by police with approval from grieving parents Mark and Faye Leveson, who just wanted to find their son.
Lies, a body and a trip to the hardware store
Michael Atkins stood trial for the 2007 murder and manslaughter of his boyfriend Matthew Leveson in 2009 with a jury finding him not guilty.
He did not give evidence in that trial, as defendants can opt out of taking the stand, but he was compelled to give evidence during the inquest into Mr Leveson’s death.
The inquest began in the year after Mr Leveson, 20, went missing, but was suspended due to Mr Atkins’ trial.
It resumed again in 2015 and has continued, interrupted for major events, until yesterday.
Crucial evidence was presented to the coroner’s court, including CCTV of Mr Atkins leaving a hardware store after buying a mattock and duct tape.
Later, Mr Atkins drew a map that led to extensive excavations at the Royal National Park south of Sydney and the last-minute discovery of Mr Leveson’s remains at the end of May.
“It was in the last hour of daylight on the last day of the Coronial Scene Investigation Order that it was determined to uproot a large cabbage palm,” the coroner said.
“It was under the palm that Matt’s remains were located.”
That plant has been moved to the Leveson family’s backyard.
Mr Atkins admitted burying the 20-year-old’s body in a shallow bush grave.
The inquest was so replete with falsehoods from Mr Atkins that Magistrate Truscott’s findings included 72 references to him lying.
But there is no conclusive evidence Mr Atkins was involved in the death of Mr Leveson in Sydney in 2007.
And it is highly unlikely after he was acquitted of his murder and manslaughter in 2009 he will face fresh charges.
Police told the ABC there were several key developments that protected Mr Atkins from going to jail.
The immunity deal
In November 2016, police gained permission from the NSW Attorney-General to offer Mr Atkins immunity from perjury offences, after it became clear he lied to the inquest. He was never given immunity for murder.
The Section 61 certificate granted by the coroner meant no evidence given by Mr Atkins could be used against him.
Magistrate Truscott explained: “Mr Atkins’ evidence at the inquest — which whilst not admissions, contained significant lies — cannot be used in any proceedings [save in any trial for perjury].
“The condition of indemnity has been met — that is, the information he gave to the police led to the recovery of Matt’s remains.”
The coroner acknowledged the Leveson family’s painful decision to agree to Mr Atkins receiving legal indemnity, in exchange for information leading to the recovery of their son’s body.
“It must have been a hideous decision,” Magistrate Truscott said.
Atkins’ story ‘would not be tested’
Mr Atkins signed an induced statement in November 2016, protecting him from any information he gave police being used against him.
In this statement, he claimed Mr Leveson died of an overdose and he found his body in their bedroom.
“Mr Atkins gave his statement in circumstances where he knew that he would not be tested and nor would the content of the statement be used against him,” the coroner said.
Magistrate Truscott said: “There is no evidence whatsoever of any other person being involved with Matt’s death or burial.”
When he disposed of the body, Mr Atkins “acted alone and had neither enlisted the assistance of another person nor spoke of what he had done to another person”.
“Mr Atkins was free to say whatever he liked about what happened to Matt, but needed to tell the police the truth about where Matt was buried so that the police could recover Matt’s remains, thereby preventing Mr Atkins being prosecuted for perjury.”
‘There wasn’t much there to test’
When police finally uncovered Mr Leveson’s bones, it was likely they were damaged by the near-decade of burial and from the heavy machinery used to unearth him.
“Matt’s been in the ground that many years now, when he was finally found there wasn’t much there to test,” Mark Leveson explained.
A forensic pathologist, Istvan Szentmariay, provided a report to the coroner that said “most of the injuries present on the bones are clearly post-mortem” but that in a small number of injuries it was impossible to determine if they occurred before or after Mr Leveson died.
The Leveson family asked the coroner to find that Mr Atkins smothered or choked his boyfriend Matthew, but the coroner declined.
“Their submission is not inconsistent with the forensic examination of Matt’s remains [however, it] is not supported by the evidence,” the coroner found.
“There is no identifiable physical injury which would inform a cause of death.
“Nor is there any forensic evidence that Matt died of a drug overdose as put forward by Mr Atkins.”
Will he face fresh charges?
The forensic evidence was exhausted and it was highly unlikely Mr Atkins would be charged in the absence of a confession or a credible witness to any crime.
“There are no further forensic or police investigations that can now be pursued in relation to Matt’s death,” Magistrate Truscott said.
“Whilst NSW does have legislation enabling a retrial … the procedure is dependent upon the discovery of ‘fresh and compelling evidence’,” she said.
Such an application would need to be made to the Court of Criminal Appeal.
The family’s enduring grief
Mark and Faye Leveson campaigned for a decade for justice for their son, so was it served?
“In a small way, yes,” said Mark Leveson, speaking outside the NSW Coroner’s Court.
“Our goal was to bring Matt home and that’s been done.
“We would have loved both [prosecution and the recovery of remains],” Faye added.
“Atkins didn’t matter. Our son was the most precious thing to us and to his brothers.”
Mrs Leveson quietly sobbed when the coroner said she regretted not being able to meet the family’s hopes and expectations.
Mr Atkins lied under oath.
Matthew Leveson’s incomplete skeleton still lies in the Glebe mortuary as his family makes burial arrangements.
Their pain may ease, but will never end.