Matthew Leveson could be alive in Thailand, lover Michael Atkins tells inquest

Matthew Leveson’s parents Faye and Mark Leveson outside court. Photo: Ben Rushton Michael Atkins and Matthew Leveson at the ARQ nightclub in the hours before Mr Leveson went missing in September 2007. Photo: Supplied
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Michael Atkins arrives at the Coroner’s Court for the inquest into the death of Matthew Leveson. Photo: Ben Rushton

The lover of Sydney man Matthew Leveson – and the last person known to have seen him alive nearly a decade ago – has given public evidence for the first time, claiming he always thought Mr Leveson had gone to Thailand.

Michael Atkins, 53, who was acquitted of both the murder and manslaughter of Mr Leveson in 2009, said he had a “tiny bit” of hope that he was still alive and he could have travelled overseas to “start a new life”.

Mr Atkins was compelled to enter the witness box, with immunity from prosecution, after a ground-breaking ruling by Deputy State Coroner Elaine Truscott who found that he would “likely be able to give important evidence about the manner and cause of Matthew’s death”.

In a bid to avoid giving evidence, Mr Atkins unsuccessfully attempted to challenge the ruling in the NSW Supreme Court.

Mr Leveson, 20, was last seen leaving the popular ARQ nightclub in Sydney’s Taylor Square with Mr Atkins, then 44, in the early hours of September 23, 2007.

In the greatly-anticipated hearing and in front of Mr Leveson’s parents, brothers and friends at the Coroners Court in Glebe on Monday, Mr Atkins said his then-boyfriend had always “enjoyed” Thailand and might have gone there because he wanted a fresh start in life.

“You know Matt is dead don’t you?” counsel assisting, Lester Fernandez, put to Mr Atkins.

“No,” Mr Atkins responded.

“Could Matt be alive?” Mr Fernandez continued.

“He could be,” Mr Atkins said.

Mr Atkins said the last time he had seen Mr Leveson, with whom he lived with in a unit at Cronulla, was on the afternoon of September 23, 2007.

Earlier that morning they had been partying at ARQ nightclub, but Mr Atkins said he had driven Mr Leveson home because he had taken too many drugs.

The inquest has previously heard that Mr Atkins was captured on security footage purchasing a garden mattock and gaffer tape at a Bunnings store later that same day.

In his evidence, Mr Atkins said Mr Leveson had planned to go out clubbing again and their last conversation was “something about the TV”.

Mr Atkins said when Mr Leveson did not return he thought it was because he was a “bit of a princess” and “had got the shits” with him.

“I thought that he just had got the shits and was just off somewhere else … I thought he would be back,” Mr Atkins said.

The inquest has previously heard that two days after Mr Leveson was reported missing his car was found parked at Waratah Oval in Sutherland.

Inside the car, police found a Bunnings Warehouse receipt, containing Mr Atkins’ fingerprint, for a mattock and gaffer tape. A large speaker system had been removed from Mr Leveson’s car and was found in the couple’s garage by police.

But Mr Atkins, who at one point during the hearing put his head down and said he was not feeling well, denied any prior familiarity with the oval despite renting out an arcade machine to the basketball stadium nearby.

He conceded that he had not done enough to help search for Mr Leveson in the days, weeks and years after his disappearance but said this was because he suffered depression and he thought police would do their job.

“I loved Matt so much . I think he loved me just as much as well,” Mr Atkins said

The inquest heard that Mr Atkins, who has a black belt in martial arts and has been trained as a security officer, had sex with two people in the days after Mr Leveson disappeared.

Outside the court, Mr Leveson’s parents Faye and Mark, laughed at the suggestion their son could have assumed a new identity and be living in Thailand. They said they only wanted to find out where their son’s body was.

“We hoped we would see this day but it’s taken a long while to get to this point,” Mr Leveson said.

“It’s as simple as that, bring him home and lay him to rest properly, that’s been our goal right from the start.”

Mark Leveson is representing his family during the coronial inquest and said he may take up the opportunity to question Mr Atkins himself.

– with Lisa Visentin

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Family and friends farewell Manrique-Lutz family after suspected murder-suicide

Maria Claudia Lutz, her husband Fernando Manrique and their children Martin and Elisa died in a suspected murder-suicide at Davidson in Sydney’s north. Photo: Supplied Martin and Elisa were found dead in the house with their parents. Photo: Supplied
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A mourner at the funeral of Fernando Mantique 44, Maria Claudia Lutz 43, Ellie 11 and Martin 10, at the Holy Name Catholic Church in Wahroonga. Photo: Wolter Peeters

Fernando Manrique’s nephew, Juan Pablo Guiterrez, leaves the Holy Name Catholic Church in Wahroonga. Photo: Wolter Peeters

Family and friends gather after the funeral of Fernando Mantique 44, Maria Claudia Lutz 43, Ellie 11 and Martin 10, at the Holy Name Catholic Church in Wahroonga. 31st October 2016, Photo: Wolter Peeters, The Sydney Morning Herald Photo: Wolter Peeters

Fernando Manrique and Martin were borne in one hearse while Maria Claudia Lutz and daughter Elisa were in another. Photo: Wolter Peeters

As people streamed into the Holy Name Catholic Church in Sydney’s north to farewell the Lutz-Manrique family, their grieving relatives wanted judgments left at the door.

Monday marked two weeks since the bodies of Maria Claudia Lutz, 43, her husband Fernando Manrique, 44, and their children Martin, 9, and Elisa, 11, were found in their home in Davidson, in a suspected murder suicide.

The deaths of the much-adored family were seen as a “deliberate act” with a trail of planning extending back to Mr Manrique purchasing carbon monoxide weeks prior.

Despite this, the victim’s families wanted the collective funeral for the mother, father and children at the Wahroonga church on Monday to be one without recrimination or analysis.

“Today is not a day for judgment, it is not a day for analysis,” Father David Ranson told the funeral.

“Today is a day to mourn the loss of four people for whom we loved and who loved us.”

But if there was one message to be taken away from the devastating murder-suicide, the families wished it would be awareness.

Their relatives said they hoped exposure of the tragedy may result in awareness of the economic, social and psychological stresses posed to families in similar situations.

“Whilst science works day after day to comprehend all these many different conditions, society cannot remain indifferent to the situations families bear, and needs to move and develop means to support them better,” they said in a statement on Monday.

“Through all this, for the families that love and care for their disabled children, every minute is special.”

These relatives, most of whom arrived in Australia from Colombia last week, remembered Mrs Lutz, a loving mother with an infectious laugh and joyful smile, for her “tenacity, resilience, optimism”.

Mrs Lutz’s parents, Ernesto and Alicia Lutz, and Mr Manrique’s sister,  Patricia, were among the mourners at the service along with staff and parents from Martin’s and Elisa’s school, St Lucy’s.

Artwork the siblings made during their time at the primary school was on display with teachers remembering their creative talents.

Wreaths made of Colombian roses and Australian flora were also inside the church, where one of Ms Lutz’s closest friends, Karen Hickmott strummed “Lullaby” on the harp.

Teachers left symbolic items for the children on their small white coffins, including paint brushes and plush toys.

Mr Manrique’s nephew, Juan Pablo Guiterrez, read out a prayer to the service asking that his relatives feel healing in the midst of their pain and grief.

“For all those who are committed to the care of those with disabilities: may we carry forward that for which the community of St Lucy’s labours with such dedication,” he said.

Mrs Lutz was heavily involved in the school community, volunteering in the canteen and forging close friendships with a group of mothers there.

It was one of those mothers who raised the alarm on October 17 when Mrs Lutz failed to turn up for her canteen shift. 

Police later discovered the family members’ bodied inside their Davidson home and a gas set-up in the ceiling.

Martin and Elisa both had intellectual disabilities but St Lucy’s acting principal Warren Hopley stressed that was not what caused their deaths.

“To my way of thinking it was quite separate, the death and disability. Because from all indications here, dad loved his two children and that wasn’t an overwhelming issue for him in my point,” he said after the service.

“We will never know the full story of all of this but that was not necessarily the trigger at all.”

For many people in the church on Monday, Father David Ranson asked a question they had struggled to answer.

“Where was God in the silence that filled Fernando and Maria’s house that Sunday?,” he said.

“The apparent absence of God is the most difficult question of all.

“Where was God for Maria Claudia and Fernando, and for Eli and Martin?

“The silence that greets our question seems almost unbearable.”

A private cremation will take place after the funeral before the family are taken back to Colombia.

❏ Support is available for those who may be distressed by phoning Lifeline 13 11 14; Mensline 1300 789 978; Kids Helpline 1800 551 800; beyondblue 1300 224 636.

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Now’s the time to build a city with a conscience

COMMON GOOD: With the trend for city living intensifying, innovative strategies are needed to ensure adequate housing, urban resilience and sustainable settlements.​There has been so much change in Newcastle. The city is moving forward, but what does our future city look like? Are we building a city with a conscience and a city that considers all the people who live in it?
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By 2050, the world urban population is expected to nearly double, posing massive challenges for sustainable urban development. With 70 per cent of the world’s population in cities, we need to rethink how we plan for the future.

Even though Australia is only second to Antarctica in the sparseness of our population, almost 90 per cent of us live in urban areas, making us one of the most highly urbanised countries on earth. This trend towards city living will only intensify.

On average, our houses are the largest on the planet but fewer of us can afford to buy them.Cities are complex interdependent networks of economic, social and environmental systems, all of which have to work together to achieve common good, which should be the goal of human dignity in life, but this is often lost in the modern landscape.

Every 20 years the United Nations convenes a highly influential global Habitat conference for those with an interest in human settlements – and particularly cities – and they try to answer how the world’s urban centres should develop in the next two decades in order to deliver the maximum benefit to humanity.

The development of cities, while crucial to the future of humanity, is part of a larger piece, namely creating the world we want for our children and beyond. Last year, the global community unanimously committed to the 2030 Development Agenda recognising the UN Sustainable Development Goals (UN-SDGs) as the blueprint for the future.

But, you may ask, so what? Isn’t this simply a grand talkfest? UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Adequate Housing, Leilani Farha, warned that “Globally, there is an interest in housing – but not as a human right, or an issue requiring urgent attention to assist the most vulnerable groups in cities around the world.” In Australia three million people live in poverty andhomelessness is not the rarity we would like to believe. Our cities are both the problem and, potentially, the solution.

Ms Farha acknowledged the “steep hill ahead” noting that Habitat III was “only a first step”and “it’s not conferences that make change, it is people.”

Cities, rural communities, local governments and private enterprise, along with all elements of civil society must come to share an understanding of what is necessary in order to balance enterprise with equity, individual desire with dignity for all, and an expedient present with a sustainable future.

We are the people who can shape this future, and in 2015 Newcastle was named a ‘United Nations City’ and became a UN training hub for the Asia-Pacific region for Disaster Preparedness and Risk Reduction hosted by the University.CIFAL Newcastle has committed to a strategic plan for 2017 that will focus on awareness-raising and assistance in adopting and implementing the UN-SDGs in the Hunter. There is not a moment to lose to create the city we want, and hope to also create a city with a strong conscience.

Associate Professor Brewer recently attended the UN’sHabitat III conference in Ecuador with UON Vice-Chancellor Caroline McMillen and Newcastle councillorsMichael Osbourne and Declan Clausen.

Associate Professor Graham Brewer is director of CIFAL Newcastle

Gordon Whitehead: Exciting time for smart action

It’s been a long time coming, but last month Premier Mike Baird finally announced that the NSW Government would invest $9.8 million into the Hunter Innovation Project (HIP) to help transform Newcastle into a digitally connected innovation precinct and enhance the appeal of Newcastle and the Hunter to entrepreneurs in the technology and digital-creative sectors.
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The HIP has three pillars: a new innovation hub, a digital precinct, and smart city infrastructure. By far the most important pillar is the smart cities infrastructure, which will turn theCBD into a unique open environment where start-ups and researchers can co-create solutions, as well as prototyping, validating and refining smart-tech solutions in a real-life urban context.

To prevent this exciting project becoming a white elephant, it will need to focus on creating skilled jobs by guaranteeing local high potential start-ups and fast-growth small to medium enterprises access to the infrastructure.This also means our best and brightest must take the initiative and come forward with new smart governance, smart energy, smart building, smart mobility, smart infrastructure, smart technology, smart healthcare and smart citizen ideas.

If you have an idea you can look to the NSW Government for help with its $190 million Jobs for NSW Fund. Over the next four years this fund will support the start-up ecosystem in NSW through grants and loans for high-potential new businesses and partnerships.At least 30 per cent of the $190 million Jobs for NSW Fund will be allocated to supporting the growth of regional start-ups and small to medium enterprises.

Grants available for promising start-ups and SMEs include the Minimum Viable Product Grant and Building Partnerships Grant.The Minimum Viable Product grant aims to help promising start-ups that are not yet generating revenue. Successful applicants will receive matched funding of up to 50 per cent of approved project costs to a maximum of $25,000 to develop a concept or prototype.The Building Partnership grant aims to help start-ups that are already generating revenue and foster collaboration between industry partners. It provides up to 35 per centof project costs (to a maximum of $100,000), to develop innovative solutions.

visit: hunterinnovationproject南京夜网419论坛 andjobsfornsw南京夜网419论坛

Gordon Whitehead is Australian Small Business Advisory Services Coordinator, The Business Centre

Big companies ready for privatisation of lucrative Sydney bus contracts

Keolis Downer and Transit Systems are eager to bid for Sydney bus contracts. Photo: Brendan Esposito Newcastle’s light rail, bus and ferry services will be run by a single operator. Photo: Supplied
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Large companies are lining up to win Sydney’s most lucrative bus contracts as expectations grow that the Baird government will open to tender services that have been run for decades by the heavily unionised State Transit Authority.

While Keolis Downer and Transit Systems are eager to bid, any decision to allow them and other private operators to compete for contracts now held by the government-owned STA is likely to meet stiff opposition from unions.

They fear it will lead to cuts to drivers’ wages and conditions, as well as bus routes deemed unprofitable.

The contract to operate a new bus corridor known as the “B-Line” from Sydney’s CBD to the lower north shore and northern beaches from next year is also expected to be opened up to private companies.

In an interview with Fairfax Media, Keolis Downer chief executive Campbell Mason said the company was interested in bidding for the STA bus operations if those contracts came up for private tender next year.

“We are a very willing participant in the privatisation process and looking forward to that franchising program moving ahead,” he said.

“We believe there is an improvement in customer service and cost savings that can be generated through franchising, as has been demonstrated elsewhere.”

The Tourism and Transport Forum has spearheaded a push for Sydney’s entire bus network to be placed in the hands of private operators.

But the union representing thousands of Sydney bus drivers says it fears private operators will slash bus services “to put money into the hands of shareholders”.

“We would be worried about the cuts in services, the cuts in maintenance and the cuts in wages and conditions of drivers who live in the most expensive city in Australia,” the secretary of the Rail, Tram and Bus Union’s bus division, Chris Preston, said.

“We would run a very loud campaign if the government said they were to privatise STA [bus contracts]. It has been in public hands for about 80 years.”

While private companies such as Hillsbus and Transdev operate bus services in Sydney, STA-run Sydney Buses still carries the majority of the city’s passengers.

The STA contracts cover the CBD, the northern beaches, Paramatta, the eastern suburbs and south to suburbs such as Mascot.

The government-owned authority has 12 bus depots in Sydney and about 3700 drivers, almost all of whom are members of the RTBU.

Sydney has become a key market for Keolis Downer to target because of its booming population and growing demands for public transport. “Hence our appetite for the STA franchising as that rolls forward,” Mr Mason said.

The company is a joint venture between Australian engineering company Downer EDI and French transport giant Keolis, and it is in the race to win the right to be the sole operator of Newcastle’s bus, light rail and ferry services.

The Newcastle contract has been regarded as a template for what the Baird government will consider rolling out elsewhere in the state.

Brisbane’s Transit Systems has also bid for the Newcastle contract and is eager to do the same in Sydney if the STA contracts are opened up.

“If the State Transit Authority of NSW decide to competitively tender bus contacts to private operators, Transit Systems would readily consider submitting a bid,” Transit Systems chief executive Clint Feuerherdt said.

Transport for NSW said a decision had yet to be made on the STA contracts, which would expire in mid-2018. The contracts had an option for the transport authority to extend them for up to two years, a spokesman said.

The “proposed service approach” for the operation of the B-Line bus services to the northern suburbs was also still under consideration, he said.

While Transit Systems already operates bus services in western Sydney, Keolis Downer is yet to break into that part of the market in Australia’s largest city despite operating buses in Western Australia, South Australia and Queensland.

Keolis executive chairman Jean-Pierre Farandou said the company operated many public passenger networks across the world, including bus and light rail services, and was “used to working with unions”.

“We have developed methods to understand better the needs of the customer and to deliver more personal services to them,” he said.

Mr Farandou, who recently visited Australia, said its international software could be used to help reduce the cost of scheduling services and “offer better value for money”.

“‘We are very keen to work in Sydney or NSW in general because we are in most of the major cities in Australia – Melbourne, Brisbane, Adelaide, Perth – but we are not in Sydney,” he said.

Keolis Downer runs Melbourne’s Yarra Trams and the light rail line on the Gold Coast.

While a consortium that includes Transdev and Alstom has won the contract to run Sydney’s new $2.1 billion tram line to the south east, Keolis Downer is interested in playing a role in the light rail line planned for Parramatta.

Mr Mason said the company was eager to see what procurement model was chosen for the delivery of the Parramatta project.

“Certainly it is a project we are very interested in operating,” he said.

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