Recurring nightmare for society

Mark Baker
Mark Baker

HOPEFULLY the guilty verdict in the murder case of Daniel Morcombe provides the family with some closure after a decade of not knowing what happened to their son.

However, the case gives rise to the question of how society and our legal system deals with repeat and remorseless sex offenders.

Brett Peter Cowan's offending against children started when he was about nine years of age and by the time he turned 18 he had already preyed on up to 30 children, he said.

His first conviction was for the molestation of a seven-year-old boy in a playground's public toilets in 1989 for which he was sentenced to two years' jail. Four years later, he molested a six-year- old boy in a violent attack in Darwin and was sentenced to seven years' jail.

Cowan is every parent's worst nightmare. But he is much more than that - he is society's worst nightmare. A repeat child sexual offender with no remorse and apparently no prospect whatsoever for rehabilitation.

The thought of him ever being released makes you simultaneously sick to your core and angry that one day, however old he might be and with whatever conditions he must abide with, Cowan will be back on the streets.

If society was left to decide the fate of a person like Cowan, I fear the result would be extremely harsh. And I fear I would have very little misgivings about it.

It's trite to say society should look at the positives of the case - channelling that outrage into something affirmative is not easy because the pain and hurt will undoubtedly always be there.

However, the perfect example is how the Morcombe family took such a horrible, horrible event and diverted some of that grief and anger into a positive movement.

I spoke with Dennis Morcombe once when he and was in Tasmania to talk about the foundation started in their son's name to educate children about their personal safety.

It was well before Daniel's remains were found in an isolated area of bush in August 2011, and his father spoke with conviction about needing to bring some degree of closure to their case.

But he also spoke about how the foundation supports the families of other missing people, particularly children, and the work it does to assist victims of crime, again, particularly when that crime impacts kids.

Anyone who has ever interacted with the Morcombes is struck by their strength and determination.

Dennis's victim impact statement, read to the court but directed at Cowan, is a heart-wrenching, powerful, sad, angry yet beautiful and eloquent speech, which summed up the fierce resolve that kept a family pushing for answers for so many years.

"You made one monumental mistake that day," Dennis said. "You picked on the wrong family. Our collective determination to find Daniel and expose a child killer was always going to win."

Daniel's family and the police who hatched a detailed and brilliant plan to catch Cowan, by inducting him into a fictitious crime gang, never gave up.

Daniel's remains were eventually found and, in perhaps the saddest detail of a horrendously sad case, he was buried with the Christmas presents he never got to open.