The heartbreaking decision that Matthew Leveson's parents had to make

Faye and Mark Leveson leaving the Glebe Coroners Court on Thursday. Photo: Christopher Pearce
Faye and Mark Leveson leaving the Glebe Coroners Court on Thursday. Photo: Christopher Pearce
Michael Atkins and Matthew Leveson. Photo: Edwina Pickles

Michael Atkins and Matthew Leveson. Photo: Edwina Pickles

Michael Atkins arrives at the Coroner's Court for the inquest into the death of Matthew Leveson. Photo: Ben Rushton

Michael Atkins arrives at the Coroner's Court for the inquest into the death of Matthew Leveson. Photo: Ben Rushton

After nearly a decade of searching for answers about what happened to their son, Matthew Leveson's parents were faced with a decision.

Did they want to find their son's body, or hold out hope they would one day see the man they believed was his killer convicted of murder?

"This is what the system has forced us to do," Mark Leveson said earlier this year.

The Levesons have long been convinced that Matt, 20, was murdered by his much older then-boyfriend Michael Atkins in 2007.

But Mr Atkins, who was the last person to be seen with Matt when they left a nightclub in Sydney's Taylor Square together, was acquitted of his murder and manslaughter by a jury in 2009.

He had never given a full account of what he knew about Matt's disappearance and, after a fresh police investigation, he remained the only person of interest.

The Leveson family lobbied for years for an inquest into Mr Leveson's death to be reopened - their ultimate goal was to find out where their son's body was buried.

But when Mr Atkins was subpoenaed to give evidence at the resumed inquest, he refused on the grounds that he had the right not to incriminate himself.

The Coroner's Court was in uncharted territory.

Deputy State Coroner Elaine Truscott could compel Mr Atkins to give evidence, but she would have to grant him a certificate protecting him from prosecution for any admissions he might make.

Should the prime suspect of a murder receive immunity? If Mr Atkins confessed and revealed where Matt was buried, he would be protected from a second trial. However, if Matt's body was one day discovered independently, there was always the chance that Mr Atkins could be retried.

The Leveson family was split. The parents and one of their sons were supportive of granting Mr Atkins immunity; another son was not.

Mr and Mrs Leveson had spent their weekends searching for burial sites in the Royal National Park in Sydney's south.

Mr Leveson said he did not want to pass the responsibility of finding Matt's body onto his two sons. Mrs Leveson saw forcing Mr Atkins to give evidence as their last opportunity to find out what happened to Matt. She was not concerned about a second trial. She wanted answers.

The head of the Homicide Unit and the Commissioner of Police also supported granting the certificate.

Ms Truscott ruled the circumstances were so compelling that allowing Mr Atkins immunity from prosecution so he could give evidence was the only way she would be able to deliver findings into the cause and manner of Matt's death.

"The preservation of the administration of justice requires that any immunisation of any person from consequences of conduct as serious as the taking of another's life is of such gravity that it would only be in exceptional and compelling circumstances where such a protection should be granted," she said in her judgment earlier this year.

Mr Atkins went to the NSW Supreme Court to have the ruling - and the inquest - thrown out. But he lost the case.

But when he finally entered the inquest witness box for the first time last week it did not seem as though the Leveson family would get what they were hoping for.

But the cracks were beginning to show. Mr Atkins appeared fragile at times - he sometimes seemed close to tears.

Detectives described him as "soft" and thought he could be broken down to make a confession of some sort.

On Thursday, the Herald broke the news that Mr Atkins had led police to where Matt's body was buried. Hopefully the Leveson family might now get what they have hoped for all these years.

How Mr Atkins came to reveal where the body of Matt was buried is unclear - but if it turns out he walks free from any punishment, the Leveson family have the right to question the system.

This story The heartbreaking decision that Matthew Leveson's parents had to make first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.