It was a final, devastating slap in the face for his parents, Faye and Mark, who will today finally bid farewell to the son they last saw in 2007.
A series of unprecedented events has sprawled over the subsequent decade — a murder acquittal, a coronial inquest, an historic deal to grant his boyfriend immunity from prosecution and the eleventh-hour discovery of his body.
The Harbour City is no stranger to sordid soap operas, but Matthew Leveson’s disappearance had people talking.
His car was found abandoned at a park in the city’s south. A Bunnings receipt for a mattock and duct tape, were in the boot.
The 20-year-old was last seen leaving ARC nightclub on the pulsating Oxford Street strip with his much-older boyfriend Michael Atkins in the early hours of Sunday, September 23, 2007.
His parents reported him missing two days later.
A murder trial
Mr Atkins stood trial for the murder and manslaughter of his boyfriend, and was acquitted by a jury in 2009.
Police tapes — where he denies the Bunnings purchases — were ruled inadmissible evidence, as police at the time had not informed him he was a suspect.
Mr Atkins exercised his right to silence during his trial, but was eventually grilled on what he knew about his boyfriend’s disappearance at a later Coronial inquest.
Before he gave evidence he was issued a certificate under section 61 of the NSW Coroner’s Act, which granted him immunity from prosecution for anything he said at the inquest.
The inquest began in 2008 but was suspended for the murder trial. It started again in 2015 — the first time in New South Wales history where a coronial inquest was held after a not guilty verdict was found in the criminal justice system.
Mr Atkins did not give evidence until 2016, almost 10 years after his boyfriend was last seen. In all, he faced five days of intense questioning.
Evidence was presented showing CCTV images of a man matching Mr Atkins’ profile leaving a hardware store, after buying a mattock and duct tape.
He told the court his boyfriend had died in bed and drugs were found in the couple’s home, but that he did not see him consume them.
During the proceedings, Mr Atkins was asked to address the Leveson family, who linked arms and faced him:
Counsel assisting: “You’ve never had the chance to say to Mark and to Faye something about losing Matt have you? Have you ever had that chance?”
Mr Atkins: “No.”
Counsel assisting: “I’m going to give you that chance now. These are the parents of Matthew Leveson. Their son’s dead and they believe you killed him. What would you like to say?”
Mr Atkins: “I want to say sorry, I suppose.”
Counsel assisting: “What are you sorry for?”
Mr Atkins: “Their loss, if he’s gone.”
Counsel assisting: “The Leveson family believe you killed Matt. Look at the Leveson family and tell them if you killed Matt or not.”
Mr Atkins: “No, I did not.”
For two desperate parents searching for answers about Matthew’s disappearance, Mr Atkins’ testimony was underwhelming.
Mr Atkins told the court that Matthew might not be dead, and may have gone overseas. Faye and Mark did not believe him.
But something unexpected happened during the inquest that would later prove pivotal — Mr Atkins admitted to having lied to the court about when he was with Mr Leveson on the night he disappeared.
Suddenly, the Levesons and the police had a bargaining chip.
No body, no deal
That Mr Atkins lied on the stand meant he could be charged with perjury, a crime that carries a maximum 10-year prison sentence in NSW.
Suddenly, his murder acquittal, and section 61 immunity, appeared less significant.
For a decade, Faye and Mark Leveson spent their weekends driving around bushland in a futile attempt to find their son’s grave. They just wanted a body.
A phone call from NSW Attorney-General Gabrielle Upton meant they were one step closer.
Ms Upton told the Levesons an unprecedented deal could be struck — Mr Atkins would be granted indemnity from prosecution for perjury and contempt of court for any evidence given at the inquest.
In return, he would lead police to Matthew’s body. If nothing was found, there would be no deal.
Mark Leveson described the choice as “impossible”. They decided to accept.
The wheels were in motion. Mr Atkins drew a map to a spot in the Royal National Park, south of Sydney.
In total police conducted 20 digs in several areas of the park, starting in November 2016.
But the process was not indefinite and by May 2017, time was running out.
After a five-day search, with only one hour left before time was to be called on the operation, police moved a small palm tree.
“They did that and I actually remarked to my wife ‘that’d be a nice palm for home’ just jokingly and within moments they put the palm down and that detective called over [Detective] Gary Jubelin,” Mr Leveson said.
“Then Gary came across to us and said ‘we’ve got him, we’ve found Matt’ and it was just because they had moved that palm.
“We’d literally walked past this palm many times, literally one metre from Matt.”
The Levesons took the palm and re-planted it in their backyard in memory of their son. A DNA test later confirmed the remains belonged to Mr Leveson.
‘We were a thorn in their sides’
Despite Mr Atkins leading police to the body, it did not mean he would be charged again with murder or manslaughter.
Double jeopardy laws, the section 61 certificate he was issued by the NSW deputy coroner and the separate deal struck with the NSW Attorney-General made this case unique.
Even if Mr Atkins’ DNA was found on Matthew’s remains — extremely unlikely after 10 years — all that would prove was that they were together in the lead-up to his death, something that had already been established in court and at the inquest.
Last year, the Coronial inquest handed down its findings into Matthew’s death.
It was open, saying there was insufficient evidence to “positively determine — to the requisite standard — how or why Matt died”.
Magistrate Elaine Truscott said Mr Atkins was not a truthful person, the findings including 72 references to lies.
“However, it does not follow … from that degree of suspicion that I can find that Mr Atkins was involved in any acts which were causative to Matt’s death,” Magistrate Truscott said.
The coroner acknowledged the Leveson family’s painful decision to agree to Mr Atkins receiving legal indemnity, in exchange for information leading to the recovery of their son’s body.
“It must have been a hideous decision,” Magistrate Truscott said.
Outside the court, his parents were asked about their 10-year battle to find their son and the push to keep the investigation open.
Mark and Faye Leveson campaigned for a decade for justice for their son. So was it served?
“In a small way, yes,” said Mark Leveson, speaking outside the NSW Coroner’s Court.
“Our goal was to bring Matt home and that’s been done.
“We would have loved both [prosecution and the recovery of remains],” Faye added.
“Atkins didn’t matter. Our son was the most precious thing to us and to his brothers.”
Matthew Leveson’s family and friends gave emotional tributes at his funeral, which was held at Woronora Chapel in Sutherland today.
His best friend, Rachel Sanki, said Matthew touched the lives of many people.
“He had the most amazing huge and contagious smile, when he smiled it would just light up the room and you couldn’t help but smile too, his personality just captured the entire room,” she said.
“When I think about Matty the first thing that comes to mind is laughter and feeling happy, and all the wonderful times we had together.”
Celebrant Boyd Duncan also paid tribute to the effort his family made to find Mr Leveson and lay him to rest.
“A family that has gone through so much and somehow come out the other side, a little battle weary but the battle was worth it because the battle has been won, the victory is theirs the trophy is their son, their brother, the boy who has now become everyone’s Matty, ” Mr Duncan said.
As posted by the ABC News Australia.
Share your thoughts in the comments on the Out Down Under Facebook page.