The controversial case of a young Ethiopian man discovered dead in the Maribyrnong River in 2011 is being re-investigated by police, who are making a fresh appeal for witnesses.
The body of Michael Atakelt, 22, was found in the Maribyrnong River on 7 July, 2011, after he had been missing for 11 days.
The Ethiopian community has been critical of the police investigation into the death, including the belief that Mr Atakelt entered the Maribyrnong River at Smithfield bridge in Footscray.
That means his body would have somehow travelled four kilometres against the river’s current to Ascot Vale, where it was found.
The matter is being investigated by the Coroner, who has ordered the police reinvestigation.
Mr Atakelt’s father, Getachew Seyoum, said in February he did not believe the investigation into his son’s death had been “thorough and rigorous”.
“The whole Ethiopian community does not have trust in the Footscray police investigation,” he said.
These comments were echoed by Reem Yehdego from Imara Advocacy, a youth group that formed after Mr Atakelt’s death.
The coroner has been told that on the evening Mr Atakelt went missing, he was upset about being held in police custody two nights earlier. He was also upset about a dispute with his girlfriend and the death of his grandfather in Ethiopia, of which he had been informed that morning. Mr Atakelt told Mohammed he was going for a long walk.
Julian Burnside, QC, appearing as an assistant to the Coroner, has submitted that the investigation should be resumed with a senior officer.
The original police brief to the coroner said Mr Atakelt may have entered the Maribyrnong River at Smithfield bridge in Footscray. But in February Sergeant George Dixon, from the water police, told the coroner it was “very unlikely” that Mr Atakelt’s body had entered the river near Smithfield bridge.
He said it probably entered the river “a very short distance” downstream, or upstream – possibly as far as two kilometres.
The Footscray police had not investigated the possibility that the body entered the river upstream of where it was found.
Police want anyone with information, particularly any witnesses who did not previously come forward, to phone Crime Stoppers on 1800 333 000.
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