How a man you've never heard of put Daniel's killer in jail.

By Kent Gordon and Gemma Deavin.

The Daniel Morcombe case was one of Australia’s biggest criminal investigations, but it was small-town lawyer Peter Boyce who played a vital role in ending the Morcombe family’s decade-long search for Daniel and his killer.

“One cannot talk about Peter without mentioning his significant role in finding Daniel and finding the person responsible,” Bruce Morcombe told Australian Story.

“[He’s] the person front and centre that’s helped us pretty well from day one.”

Peter Boyce, the small town lawyer who helped solve the biggest criminal investigation in Queensland's history.

Mr Boyce, a lawyer in the small south-east Queensland town of Nambour, did not know the Morcombes, but as a local was shocked by and drawn to the case.

"We'd been away on holidays, came back and there was this story... we couldn't believe it," he said.

"No-one ever thought that could happen in our area.

"I could see the pain, the hurt, the sense of loss and I thought, 'well at least I can do something as a lawyer'.

"I couldn't just walk away, and I wouldn't."

Mr Boyce helped Bruce and Denise start the Daniel Morcombe Foundation to keep the investigation into their son's disappearance in the public and police eye.

"In May 2005 we had our first Daniel Morcombe Foundation committee meeting," Denise Morcombe said.

"Peter came to our second meeting and basically hasn't left the foundation since."

13yo Daniel Morcombe disappeared in 2003 while waiting for a bus on the Sunshine Coast.

Mr Boyce's involvement increased when the Morcombes began to push for a coronial inquest in July 2009.

Mr Morcombe said their desire for an inquest was never a sign they were "cranky" about the police investigation.

"It was really saying thanks very much, we appreciate your efforts, now it's time for a review of that," he said.

News Corp journalist Kirstin Shorten followed the case and said at that stage, the Morcombes were increasingly frustrated by the way the police investigation was handled, but that "they always identified that they were on the same side".

Queensland Police Assistant Commissioner Mike Condon said there were frustrations from time to time because they were not getting the results they had hoped for.

"The Daniel Morcombe investigation was a very long and protracted investigation," he said.


"We were conscious that Bruce and Denise wanted answers."

When the coronial inquest was announced in 2010, the Morcombes initially planned to represent themselves.

"Peter said 'who's representing you?' And quite casually I said, 'well, Denise and I'," Mr Morcombe said.

"And his face just drained with blood."

Mike Condon acknowledged the Morcombes' concerns over the investigation.

Mr Boyce told Mr Morcombe it was not a good idea and that they would "get slaughtered because [they] don't know the system".

It was then that Mr Boyce stepped in as their lawyer.

"Peter was there day and night for months and months and months, reading the police brief and assisting Bruce," Mrs Morcombe said.

"He wanted to find the answer as much as us."

And he did it for free.

"It wasn't a matter of us coming up with all this money to pay a lawyer," Mrs Morcombe said.

"Peter Boyce did all of this for free - he wouldn't take any money at all."

At one stage during the inquest, Mr Boyce had a stroke.

His wife Melissa urged him to take some time out, but he kept going.

"I said 'oh Peter, you're going to have to rest', but no, [he] wouldn't rest," she said.

"It was just a mini-stroke, but he never missed a minute."

One of the inquest's main objectives was reviewing the police investigation into Daniel's disappearance.

Kirstin Shorten said this was where Mr Boyce was "instrumental".

Peter Boyce helped Bruce and Denise start The Daniel Morcombe Foundation.

"We were told it was the biggest investigation in the history of Queensland, and no doubt it was, but that doesn't mean it's the best," Mr Boyce said.

He needed to make sure that even though it was "the biggest" that they had not "missed some vital clue".

When Daniel disappeared the police drew a report of known sex offenders in the area. There were 33 persons of interest the police were most interested in.

The Morcombes and Mr Boyce asked for 10 persons of interest (POIs) to be called. The Queensland Police asked for none.


"Here was a perfect opportunity to quiz people, with additional powers ... in a public environment and they declined," Mr Morcombe said.

"And we were utterly shocked. It became personal. We never wanted it to get personal."

Assistant Commissioner Condon acknowledged the concerns.

"We accept that there is frustration, we accept that when people don't know all the facts, and only the investigators know all the facts, that there will be frustration and we just have to deal with that," he said.

The coroner disagreed with the police and the seven persons of interest were called.

The man who was eventually charged with the murder and abduction of Daniel Morcombe was person of interest number seven - Brett Peter Cowan.

Brett Peter Cowan, was convicted of Daniel Morcombe's murder in 2014.

Mr Boyce said the "crucial evidence" came when Cowan's alibi at the time of Daniel's disappearance fell through and it became clear there was a period of time corresponding with Daniel's disappearance that could not be explained.

"When Cowan was interrogated at the inquest it was like a light bulb suddenly went on for everyone... that this was a person of interest who the police should have investigated more thoroughly," Shorten said.

"I think it's fair to say that the inquest provided investigators with an opportunity to continue to advance the strategy that was unfolding," Assistant Commissioner Condon added.

That "advance" was the successful police sting operation that elicited a confession from Cowan.

The first person Mr Morcombe phoned when Cowan was arrested and charged in August 2011 was Mr Boyce.

On March 14, 2014 Cowan was sentenced to life in prison.

"If Peter hadn't asked for Cowan to be on the coronial and be questioned, there's no doubt in my mind that Cowan would still be walking free now," Mrs Morcombe said.

"We now have a place that we can have a prayer, a place where we can leave some flowers at his grave," Mr Morcombe said.

"That's where Peter has made an incredible difference in our life and we're indebted to him for that."

This post originally appeared on the ABC and was republished here with full permission. 
© 2015 Australian Broadcasting Corporation. All rights reserved. Read the ABC Disclaimer here