Nearly eight years after 13-year-old Daniel Morcombe disappeared from a bus stop on Queensland's Sunshine Coast, sparking the state's biggest police investigation, a murder suspect has finally been charged and will appear in court today.
After the arrest of the 41-year-old Perth man on Saturday, police spent yesterday scouring bushland in the Sunshine Coast hinterland in a fresh search for Daniel's body. The area, near Beerwah, is about 40km from Palmwoods, where he was last seen in December 2003.
His parents, Denise and Bruce Morcombe, welcomed the breakthrough, but said they were finding it "tough" to deal with news of the arrest. "It's actually very crushing, because it's a reality check where you fully appreciate now that Daniel has been murdered, and those thoughts are not easy to deal with," his father said. "It's a very difficult place ... [we] find ourselves in."
The arrest followed the resumption in April of an inquest into Daniel's suspected abduction and murder. According to the Queensland Sunday Mail, the man was a "person of interest" at the inquest. He has been charged with murder, deprivation of liberty, child stealing, indecent treatment of a child under 16 and interfering with a corpse. The man, who will appear in Brisbane Magistrates Court, cannot be named.
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Determined to find out what happened to their son, Daniel's parents have spent the past eight years campaigning for information from the public.
They also established the Daniel Morcombe Foundation to inform people about child safety. At the weekend, Queensland Police Commissioner Bob Atkinson praised their "courage, patience and resolve".
The Morcombes said their first priority had always been to find their son's body and give him a decent burial; their second to find out who was responsible. That person "picked on the wrong family ... We would never give up," Bruce Morcombe said. Calling the arrest "a tremendous step forward", he added: "We have a long way to go, but hopefully we will march towards a guilty verdict from here."
Daniel, a twin, was on his way to the Sunshine Plaza Shopping Centre to buy Christmas presents for his family, but never returned.
The search for his body is taking place in swampland in the Beerburrum State Forest, which a police spokeswoman described as "incredibly difficult terrain". She said the operation would be stepped up today and would continue "until we find him". Queensland's leading forensic pathologist Professor Peter Ellis was at the site yesterday.