Readers are advised this article contains the name and image of a First Nations person who has died.
More than three years after the body of a First Nations man was found in the Murrumbidgee River, an inquest has formally started into his death.
Nathan Booth was last seen by his family in June 2019, then the 40-year-old’s body was found in the river near the Kambah Pool on 1 December of that year.
Late last year, police renewed their plea for information on what happened.
A coronial inquest into his death formally began in the ACT Galambany Court on Tuesday (16 May) with a directions hearing attended by his family members.
“All of our family and the community believe Nathan was murdered,” his sister Deanne Booth said after the hearing.
“We want some justice for Nathan.”
Coroner Ken Archer told the family the Australian Federal Police had conducted an investigation that was not yet complete, although the available brief of evidence ran to 2000 pages.
He also said the results of what had been done so far had only been partially disclosed to the family.
While the coroner said “quite a few” people had been spoken to, he said some who had been approached refused to participate in an interview.
“I just want to say that work has been done. It is not the case that the court or the AFP have been sitting on our hands,” he said.
“But I acknowledge readily that more needs to be done.”
Ms Booth told the coroner that people in the community were scared to talk about what happened.
“We know that people don’t want to speak,” she said.
She asked about how to get these people to talk for the inquest and protect them if they did speak up.
Coroner Archer said this would have to be worked out on an individual basis, adding it was in the interests of justice to get as many people as possible who had knowledge about the situation to come forward.
Counsel assisting the coroner Joe Kellaway said he hoped the inquest would provide some clarity about what happened to Mr Booth in the June to December 2019 window.
He told the family the submissions they had made so far were helpful and “very much informs us about the importance of Nathan”.
Mr Kellaway also told them that the AFP had done a lot of things “that will give you some comfort”, but added, “I’m not saying everything you’ve raised is answered”.
He had identified forensic areas of interest for the inquest and said the court was arranging expert opinions.
A five-day hearing for the inquest was set for 11 December 2023, while it will first return to court for another directions hearing on 27 June.
Coroner Archer also told the family he had “an open mind” about how Mr Booth died.
Mr Booth was a father to four daughters, as well as being a son, brother, uncle and cousin.
After the directions hearing ended, Ms Booth told the media her brother had been “a loving family member”.
“When he was with Mum, he did the world for Mum,” she said.
“She sat there and he made her cuppas and she got treated like a queen.”
She said that due to the formal opening of the inquest, it felt like the investigation into her brother’s death was going in a good direction.
She said before it started, she felt like her family was giving information to authorities and nothing was happening.