A photograph showing a body on the road, from the coronial inquest into the death of Troy Forsyth, who was killed in a hit and run in Kent Street, Deakin, on March 1, 1987. Photo: Rohan Thomson
- No justice for life lost
- Pain of a hit-and-run never goes away
- Detectives said death was 'open-shut case'
- New claims checked but police say they're not enough
Explosive revelations about the killing of a Canberra teenager in the 1980s, including allegations of a police cover-up, have prompted calls for a fresh inquiry into one of the ACT's oldest cold cases.
Troy Forsyth was killed in the early hours of March 1, 1987, when a Holden panel van struck him as he walked home along Kent Street with three friends after an 18th birthday party at the Deakin Soccer Club.
A picture of a car similar to the one police believe was involved in a hit and run in 1987. Photo: Supplied
The van did not stop, and the 17-year-old was left to die on the road as his teenage friends watched in horror.
Police never found the panel van or its driver, despite an exhaustive search, and a coronial inquest in 1988 declared the death to be an accident.
But a Canberra Times investigation - prompted by claims from a new informant who says he was threatened by police to stay quiet - has uncovered a string of glaring irregularities and strange oversights in the early investigation into Troy's death.
Troy Forsyth who was killed in a hit and run on Kent Street in Deakin, March 1, 1987. Photo: Supplied
The findings have prompted Troy's mother, Valerie Tomkins, now fighting her own battle with cancer, to call for a new coronial inquiry to uncover the truth behind her only son's death.
Ms Tomkins and Troy's sister, Vanessa Forsyth, say they have been robbed of justice by an investigation marred by "gross incompetence".
The Canberra Times has discovered that just one week after the death, detectives were refusing to consider suggestions the death was a deliberate killing.
Officers allegedly told one informant they wanted an "open and shut case" and claimed there were no suspicious circumstances, despite an array of evidence suggesting otherwise.
At that point, police had two witnesses saying they saw the van veer towards Troy, and another witness saying that Troy's life had been threatened at the party after a brief fight.
A sergeant from another police branch had also warned the investigators he believed the death was murder, the lives of witnesses had been threatened, and the driver had previously told Troy he would be "going to your funeral within the next two weeks".
Errors in the initial forensic analysis of the paint fragments meant police were potentially searching for the wrong coloured van for nine months.
All evidence collected from the crime scene has since been destroyed by police, because it was damaged in a flood at the old Belconnen police property office.
More than two decades later police say the loss of the material - including the indicator and paint fragments from the offending car - will not affect the investigation, and that it has been properly logged and recorded.
Crucially, authorities failed to re-examine a blue Holden panel van - pulled over after it tried to drive back past the crime scene soon after the death - despite realising nine months later they had made an error in the initial analysis of the paint fragments.
That van's driver, who cannot be named for legal reasons, was at the same party as Troy, admitted to doing burnouts a short time before Troy was hit, and was implicated in a scuffle between Troy and another group just before the collision.
Discrepancies between his statement and the statements of his passengers about the car's movements and when they found out about the death were overlooked.
The driver sold the car in the weeks
after the hit and run, and was heard badmouthing Troy after the collision, saying he deserved what he got.
Witness statements show the van was inspected by a single officer manning a road block on Kent Street in the middle of the night. That officer dismissed it because the paint was the "wrong colour", and the damage to its front end was old and not consistent with the crash.
That is despite the forensics mix-up, which may have had police searching for the wrong coloured vehicle, and the fact that the vehicle suffered only minor paint damage in the crash, according to reports in 1987 in The Canberra Times.
After the inspection, a constable talked with him for five minutes, and then let him drive away. Further suspicion has been cast on the involvement of that driver by a new informant, one of Troy's school friends, Mark Plows, who has spoken publicly about the death for the first time.
Mr Plows says he was threatened by police to stay quiet about a confrontation he had with the driver after the driver had insulted his dead friend, saying he deserved to die.
Mr Plows said that several hours after their argument, he received a phone call from an Australian Federal Police detective, who warned him to cease all contact with the driver, or he would be locked up.
He held his silence for more than two decades.
Now, along with Troy's family, Mr Plows alleges there was either a cover-up of the crime or that the investigation was flawed.
He agreed to speak to police after coming forward to The Canberra Times late last year, and his claims were taken down in a formal statement by investigators.
Police used his information to re-interview the driver of the panel van, and several others linked to the case. But the former lead investigator, Detective Sergeant Jason Kennedy, said the information had not helped police achieve a breakthrough.
Police maintain they did everything they could to track down the driver, pointing to an exhaustive search that looked at hundreds of cars across Australia. The investigation remains open, and police are still examining other potential leads.
Troy Forsyth's family lodged an official complaint about the early investigation, alleging that just one constable had been put on the case, and he was able to spend only an hour a day looking into Troy's death.
The Commonwealth Ombudsman and the police found that complaint to be unsubstantiated.