The last person to see Jayden Penno-Tompsett before the 22-year-old disappeared in the Queensland bush has told a coronial inquest about his final hours.
Mr Penno-Tompsett went missing in the Charters Towers area during a three-day road trip from Newcastle to Cairns with his friend Lucas Tattersall to celebrate New Year’s Eve in 2017.
Mr Tattersall told a Cairns court on Wednesday the pair had planned to meet up with more than a dozen other young people, who were all members of a friendship group known as the Dead Beat Drug Club on Facebook.
The court heard the pair picked up an assortment of drugs, including ecstasy, in Newcastle for the group’s use in Cairns.
The court heard while the rest of the group flew to the Far North Queensland city, Mr Penno-Tompsett and Mr Tattersall decided to drive Mr Tattersall’s car to avoid police detection at the airport.
Mr Tattersall told the inquest the pair had been using drugs throughout the road trip, and became involved in a verbal argument on a remote road near Charters Towers on the morning of December 31.
“That’s when it all went to shit,” Mr Tattersall said.
Mr Tattersall told the court his friend claimed he had lost drugs that he intended to sell to his friends waiting in Cairns, and they stopped by the roadside near Charters Towers to look for them.
“He pulled up eight or nine times to search all the bags in the car, his ice was misplaced somewhere … he was getting really aggravated,” Mr Tattersall said.
“He got his MDMA, smashed his phone and then proceeded to start walking off from the cars towards the trees.
“I proceeded to follow him, but he said, ‘Leave me the f*** alone.’
“I checked trees, I didn’t know what the case was.”
Mr Tattersall said it was a very hot day, and after searching for several hours, he left the area and drove to Cairns.
When questioned by counsel assisting the coroner, Joseph Crawfoot, whether he had anything to do with Mr Penno-Tompsett’s disappearance, Mr Tattersall replied, “No”.
Another friend of the missing man, Jed Wakefield, gave evidence via video link, telling the court he was surprised when Mr Tattersall showed up at a Cairns hotel without Mr Wakefield’s “best mate”.
“He (Mr Tattersall) was fried, he looked unhealthy … he had been on the drugs for a day or two … he was absolutely cooked,” Mr Wakefield told the court.
“It was awkward. People were asking him where Jayden was.”
Mr Wakefield was asked why the group continued to party and do day trips to islands and swimming spots, instead of immediately notifying police that Mr Penno-Tompsett was missing.
“We knew they [Penno-Tompsett and Tattersall] had a fight and that Lucas left him there,” Mr Wakefield said.
“We were thinking he was just doing his own thing.”
He told the court Mr Tattersall had shown up in Cairns with far fewer drugs than the group was expecting, and that he believed his missing friend was in possession of the other drugs.
But he denied the drugs were the reason the group took several days to report Mr Penno-Tompsett missing.
“I don’t recall saying, ‘No, we don’t go to the police,'” Mr Wakefield said.
The missing man’s cousin Timothy Westcott was also part of the group from Newcastle who travelled to Cairns for New Year’s Eve.
The court was shown a copy of a text message Mr Westcott sent to Mr Tattersall, after he found out his cousin had gone missing, urging him “don’t go too (sic) the cops”. He also offered him a bed at his hotel.
“I didn’t want to call the cops because I didn’t want to get him into trouble … I knew he [Penno-Tompsett] had half the drugs,” Mr Westcott said.
He also said he didn’t realise his cousin had been dropped off in remote bushland in western Queensland and he thought he would just “catch a train to Cairns.”
A large-scale police search was launched on January 3, after several members of the group eventually went to Cairns police to report Mr Penno-Tompsett missing.
The inquest heard police searched an enormous area around Charters Towers.
Mr Tattersall also led police to the spot where he said Mr Penno-Tompsett left the car and walked into bushland.
On Tuesday in court, Mr Penno-Tompsett’s mother Rachel Penno said she believed her son was murdered.
She also raised concerns about the Queensland Police investigation, saying an officer initially told her that her son had probably “run off with a Swedish backpacker”.
Ms Penno also revealed she had not read the 170-page police report before giving evidence.
She gave evidence again in court on Wednesday, having read the document, and conceded that police had “done a lot of work”.
“They have done their job, there was a bit of lack of communication … I didn’t really know what was going on,” Ms Penno said.
The inquest continues.
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