Bruce and Denise Morcombe burn the mannequin of a person of interest in the disappearance of their son Daniel.
Bruce and Denise Morcombe burn the mannequin of a person of interest in the disappearance of their son Daniel. Contributed

P7 toughs out grilling questions

SHIVERS spread through the packed courtroom as the scruffy suspect slumped into the witness box.

His long, mousey brown hair fell below his shoulders as he looked around.

Police escorts had delivered the man, who lived in a Central Queensland mining town a few years ago, to the sterile courtroom on the seventh level of the Brisbane Magistrates Court.

He took an affirmation, cleared his throat and readied himself for questions.

“This is your last chance to tell us what happened on December 7, 2003.”

Did you kill Daniel Morcombe?

One of the prime suspects accused of abducting and murdering Sunshine Coast 13-year-old Daniel Morcombe more than seven years ago was relatively unknown until last week.

He can be identified only as P7 because of a suppression order on witness names during the coronial inquest into Daniel’s disappearance on December 7, 2003. P7 is a 41-year-old who left his wife and children and moved to live with a new girlfriend at Moranbah six months after Daniel’s disappearance.

He has snatched little boys from public areas and committed horrific sex offences against them in the past.

His own evidence places him on Nambour Connection Road at the exact time Daniel went missing.

He saw the broken down bus that was meant to take the teenager to Sunshine Plaza – but claims he never laid an eye on Daniel who was waiting in a bright red shirt.

There is a 35-minute gap in P7’s whereabouts on that afternoon and he looks remarkably like sketches drawn from witness accounts of a man seen standing near Daniel under the Kiel Mountain Road overpass.

But with no hard evidence ever linking him to the case, P7 is a free man.

A sordid life

P7 was the second youngest of four brothers. He had a fairly normal upbringing despite some bullying at school.

His attraction to young boys started in primary school and by the time he was 18 he had preyed on 10 to maybe 30 children.

He targeted youngsters at a local swimming pool.

But he was never interested in any emotional contact, just fleeting attractions.

He left a boy to die in bushland

The first run-in with the law came when P7 was 18. He had been ordered to work community service at a supervised playground in Brisbane in 1987.

At the playground P7 took a seven-year-old boy into the toilets and molested him.

When he had finished, P7 casually returned to work.

He went on the run from police, escaping to New South Wales and avoiding arrest until two years later.

“I don’t want to go to jail for something I haven’t done,” P7 told the police.

He admits now that was a lie because he was “in denial”.

Four years later, P7 found a new victim when he moved with his girlfriend to Darwin.

He was living in a caravan park in 1993 when a young boy approached him, asking if P7 had seen his sister.

P7 led the boy into the bush and lifted him on to an overturned car in a paddock.

He brutally molested the six-year-old, at one stage covering the child’s mouth as he cried loudly.

P7 left the boy to die.

The youngster was found that evening when he stumbled out of bushland naked and covered in dirt, cuts and bruises.

His eyes had haemorrhaged and his lung was punctured, injuries doctors said were caused by strangulation. He was so battered the policewoman who found him thought he had been run over by a car.

“I don’t have to worry about anything, I didn’t do it,” P7 told police when he was interviewed at the caravan park.

It was not until four days after the attack when police told him they had found DNA evidence on the boy that P7 confessed.

Laughter behind the lies

Before Darwin police pinned the attack on P7, he laughed when he had to sign a statement about where he had been on the day.

“I hope you catch the bastard,” he told police, knowing that his statement was full of lies.

At the inquest into Daniel Morcombe’s abduction, counsel assisting the coroner, Peter Johns, asked P7 about his reaction.

“Is it a natural reaction for you is it, when something like that is put to you where you know you’re lying that you laugh?”

P7 said a psychologist had diagnosed it as a “stress management reaction”.

A ‘religious’ man with a new family P7 was locked up until 1998.

When he was freed he moved in with relatives on the Sunshine Coast where he wanted to start a fresh life.

He joined a Christian church where he later met his wife.

P7 would go to pray three times a week until he cut ties with the religious group suddenly.

He accused the pastor of false preaching after he told the assembly there was no such thing as an

unforgivable sin.

By December, 2003, P7 was living at Nambour with his wife and young son.

The marriage was strained and P7, now 34 years old, had returned to an old habit of smoking marijuana each morning.

Are you the unluckiest man?

A crime where a juvenile boy is snatched from a public place and neither he nor his kidnapper is ever found is so rare that it has only happened once in Queensland in P7’s lifetime.

That one case is Daniel Morcombe.

“So the bastard who did this, to take your words from the Northern Territory, not only happened to do this unfortunately while you were driving right by, but you’re unlucky enough that he actually looks like you as well,” Mr Johns said to P7 at the inquest.

“And as if this isn’t some great celestial joke that God’s playing on you, someone’s gone and parked a car like yours 100m from the scene at the same time.

“You are the unluckiest man around, aren’t you?”

P7 shrugged his shoulders.

“I was not involved in Daniel’s disappearance,” he said.

For P7 to rule himself out as a suspect, he has to have the coroner believe he was buying drugs from his friends when Daniel disappeared – an alibi he didn’t give to police until 2006, and one that is not supported by his friends.

When police questioned him about the gap in his movements on that Sunday, P7 laughed. “Having something to do in half-an-hour and get rid of … or anything like that, I don’t think that’s possible,” P7 said.

Mr Johns said P7 knew 30 minutes was ample time, longer than he took in Darwin when he almost killed a boy.

“You denied and denied and you lied and you lied about what you did (in Darwin) until it was made clear that you were going to be found out by your DNA,” Mr Johns said.

“And that’s when you cracked.

“The offence in Darwin shows you will say anything until it is very clear to you that you have no other choice.”

P7 sat stony-faced as Mr Johns levelled the accusations at him.

“I say you intentionally killed Daniel (because) you found out it was very annoying to have a victim survive and come and identify you,” Mr Johns said.

When he finished giving evidence at the inquest, P7 was free to fly back to his new life in Perth.

State Coroner

Michael Barnes has the final role of deciding if P7 told another lie when he said he did not kill Daniel.

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