How do you place value on a murder victim’s life?
This is a question a committee within the NSW Police Force has the responsibility of grappling with.
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William Tyrell: $1 million dollar reward
The biggest monetary reward in NSW is on offer for anyone that can lead police to the whereabouts of missing toddler William Tyrrell. Vision courtesy ABC News 24
It is also a question that unsettles the families of many homicide victims in NSW, who are leading a push to see $1 million rewards assigned to unsolved homicide cases in a show of uniformity.
“We are looking to see uniformity because right now it’s arbitrary … it is like weighting a person’s life,” said Mark Leveson, whose son Matthew disappeared, and was believed murdered, in 2007.
The announcement on Monday of a $1 million reward in the suspected abduction case of missing toddler William Tyrrell has sparked debate on whether NSW should follow the lead of other states.
From 2014, every new reward offered for unsolved homicide cases in Victoria was set at $1 million, following pleas from victims’ families for consistency.
Similar rewards are offered in South Australia, with police there attaching $1 million rewards to 13 child murder cases in 2014.
Currently NSW Police’s Rewards Evaluation Advisory Committee determines reward applications for unsolved crimes before those decisions are referred to the Police and Justice Minister.
Factors such as the status of investigation and value of information police hope to attract are taken into consideration when the force weighs up reward applications.
There is currently a $100,000 reward on offer for information leading to the location of Matthew Leveson’s body, something his parents are desperate for.
Mr Leveson and his wife, Faye, applied for their son’s reward to be increased to $200,000 and were devastated when it was knocked back.
“If you look at Victoria and South Australia they obviously must think it is worth it, they have put the one million figure up,” Mrs Leveson said.
“It’s like saying, ‘This person is worth more than this person’, and that is how it appears to people and to us. In our case Matthew’s life isn’t worth as much as the person that got $250,000.”
For Stephen Breckenridge, the reward increases for his son David’s case came without his asking.
David Breckenridge, 28, was fatally stabbed at St Leonards while on his way to watch football at a mate’s house.
A reward for information leading to a conviction over the medical student’s death was initially $50,000. Mr Breckenridge said that number was eventually raised to $250,000.
“I think we were grateful for the police that they had done that and probably appreciative they had put that on the table,” he said.
“But I also thought this must indicate [the case] is becoming harder for them.”
Mr Breckenridge said he had bounty hunters contact him, claiming to have information about his son’s murder and wanting a slice of the reward.
However, to combat the issue of “his life is worth more than my life”, uniformity would help as long as the investigation continued as well.
“If an increase in the reward is a segue to just sitting down and waiting for it to fall in their lap, I wouldn’t be in favour of it,” he said.
Support After Murder group president Peter Rolfe says he has approached the NSW Government approximately “eight times” about bringing the state in line with others.
“We want some action now, we have waited for too many years,” he said.
“Now the government has set a precedent, we want that precedent applied to other unsolved homicides.”
Underlying this debate is the argument that rewards don’t work.
According to the most recent figures available, no rewards or applications were made in either 2015 or 2014.
In 2013, 44 applications were made with $120,000 in rewards paid out.
Kylie Spelde remembers feeling hopeful when police announced a $100,000 reward in the case of her sister, Janine Vaughan, who disappeared from Bathurst in 2001.
When she saw the news about the highest ever reward being offered in the case of William Tyrrell, she felt a split second of sadness.
“For a split second when I saw that I thought, ‘Wow, what makes him more important then my sister?’, as we are sitting back waiting for answers as well,” she said.
“If they are going to it for one, why not do it for all?”
Asked whether the government would consider the families’ push for changes to the reward system, Deputy Premier Police Minister Troy Grant said in a statement: “Rewards are one avenue of investigation for police to appeal to the public for information about an unsolved case.”
“The offer of a reward might be enough to trigger someone’s memory or encourage someone who has been withholding information to come forward.”