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Australia Police note on missing teacher 'scant'

08:05  21 june  2021
08:05  21 june  2021 Source:   aap.com.au

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Why did a loved and respected schoolteacher upend her life, secretly change her name, slip back into Australia and quietly vanish?

text: An inquest has opened into former Sydney and Gold Coast teacher Marion Barter's 1997 disappearance. © Dean Lewins/AAP PHOTOS An inquest has opened into former Sydney and Gold Coast teacher Marion Barter's 1997 disappearance.

The question that has stumped Marion Barter's family and friends for decades is now before NSW State Coroner Teresa O'Sullivan, who on Monday opened an inquest into the former Sydney and Gold Coast teacher's disappearance.

Ms Barter has not been confirmed as being seen since departing Australia for England on June 22, 1997.

But her relatives and police now know she'd already changed her name by deed poll to Florabella Natalia Marion Remakel and would soon slip back into Australia.

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The coroner was told Sally Leydon reported her mother missing in October 1997, noting the possibility Ms Barton was back in the country.

But police did little for 10 years, having marked Ms Leydon's report "occurrence only" and "no further action required" in the first 36 hours, the current lead detective said.

"(The narrative) is very, very scant in detail," Detective Senior Constable Gary Sheehan said.

No detailed statement was taken from Ms Leydon and no picture of Ms Barter was put on file.

The detective said it was unclear why the case was an "occurrence only", describing it as an "inappropriate" categorisation.

"A portion of the narrative was confusing, relating to ... Marion (being) possibly prone to having not contacted family for periods of time," Det Sen Const Sheehan said.

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"That being the case, I formed the opinion later on, it should have been a missing person report."

When he picked up the case in 2009, it became "obvious" to him police hadn't the large amount of information Ms Leydon had.

But his investigations have been hampered by destroyed records, unanswered inquiries and foggy memories.

Before going to Byron Bay police in 1997, Ms Leydon was told by a Commonwealth Bank employee a series of $5000 withdrawals had been made from her mother's account.

Those transactions records no longer exist, the inquest was told.

"Limited" documentary evidence following Ms Barter's return to Australia includes the August 7 cancellation of an RACQ membership and policy, which would have required a phone call or branch attendance.

An optometrist who was recorded by Medicare as consulting Ms Barter in Grafton in 1997 is also due to give evidence at the inquest.

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Ms Barter, whose first of three husbands was Australian soccer legend Johnny Warren, taught at various locations including the Blue Mountains and Sussex Inlet from the 1960s.

In 1994, she accepted a role at prestigious The Southport School, moving to the Gold Coast where Sally later followed.

But Ms Barter quit midyear, sold her house at a loss, packed her belongings in an unknown storage unit and - without her family's knowledge - changed her name to the "highly unusual" Florabella Remakel, counsel assisting Adam Casselden SC said.

"The reasons behind that (name change) are intrinsically connected with the mysterious circumstances of her disappearance," he said in his opening address.

Just before leaving Australia, Ms Barter was spotted late one night in May 1997 at a petrol station. The man seen in the passenger seat of her car has never been identified.

The coroner will be asked to rule on whether she is still alive, and if not, how she died.

Mr Casselden said the investigation was "very much ... ongoing".

"If any member of the public has any information ... I strongly encourage you to come forward," he said.

The inquest is due to run until Friday in Sydney, before a week of hearings in Ballina and Byron Bay.

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