THE inadequate handling of the disappearance of Bathurst teenager Jessica Small in 1997 was an indictment on the police investigating the case, the state's deputy coroner has found.
Magistrate Sharon Freund handed down her findings this afternoon following a three-week inquest into Jessica's abduction and presumed murder.
She heavily criticised Bathurst police involved with the initial investigation and could only offer an open finding in the case "that Jessica Beth Small died on or after the 26th of October 1997".
"Her death is suspicious and I am satisfied that she died at the hands of a person or persons unknown," Ms Freund found.
"I refer the matter back to the Unsolved Homicide Squad."
Ms Freund said poor police handling of the case in the initial stages hampered the efforts of police who took over the case years later and did their best to solve the mystery.
"It is quite simply an indictment on those initial investigating detectives in the days and weeks following Jessica's abduction that their assumptions and prejudices compromised the investigation, caused immeasurable additional distress and hurt to the family of Jessica and may also have put others at risk," Ms Freund said.
"Hopefully lessons will be learnt and other families do not have to go through the same distress as Ricki [Small], Rebecca [Small] and Vanessa [Conlan] in the future."
Ms Freund also recommended that a reward of at $500,000 be offered for information leading to the conviction of anyone in relation to the abduction and murder of Jessica Small, and that consideration be given to "implementing measures to achieve a closer liaison between the Missing Persons Unit and the Homicide Squad in relation to long-term missing person cases".