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Lani Oataway

Emotional police inspector tells Gordon Copeland inquest his drowning will affect her for life

Gordon Copeland's partner Josephine Brown was pregnant with their second child when he drowned. (Supplied: Aboriginal Legal Service)

A police officer in charge of a search for an Aboriginal man in Moree has told an inquest his death will stay with her for the rest of her life.

WARNING: This article contains images of an Aboriginal person who has died. They are used with the permission of the family.

The New South Wales Coroner has been told 22-year-old Gomeroi man Gordon Copeland ran from police into the flooding Gwydir River in the state's north-west during July last year.

The inquest heard a large-scale search for him was called off hours after he entered the water.

Inspector Helen McWilliam said a detective called her and instructed, "You can call the dogs off … there were two people in the car and they've been accounted for".

The coroner has heard the detectives had the wrong information, and Mr Copeland was still in the river.

Inspector McWilliam was on the verge of crying as she addressed the family at the inquest.

"And I believe this job will stay with both my young officers and myself for the rest of our lives."

Family and friends return to court for the inquest into Gordon Copeland's death. (ABC News: Kathleen Ferguson)

She told the coroner she relied on volunteers to help search for Mr Copeland, and the town did not have enough emergency resources to sustain a large search in the following weeks.

"We don't have a large SES [State Emergency Service] unit here in Moree for example, nor a large RFS [Rural Fire Service] unit, so when it comes to — as we've learnt with this search — we don't have many resources locally that we can call on," Inspector McWilliam said.

"I really wish more people would volunteer for the RFS and the SES for the township of Moree, but we can only use resources that are available to us at the time."

Gordon Copeland's body was found about three months after he went missing. (ABC News: Lani Oataway)

Detectives advised calling off search

Detective Sergeant Greg Ryan admitted that if he had had more information from other officers, the search would not have been called off so soon.

He told the coroner he had not spoken to any of the officers who had seen Mr Copeland disappear in the Gwydir's floodwaters.

He said Detective Brad Beddoes and himself told officers to stop looking for someone in the river, after they got information only two people were in the car that night.

The inquest continues and is expected to finish at the end of the week.

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