Pig hunters deny drug trafficking theory on missing man

Cheryl Goodenough |

Hunting group members deny a theory they were trafficking drugs when Jeremiah Rivers went missing.
Hunting group members deny a theory they were trafficking drugs when Jeremiah Rivers went missing.

A member of a pig hunting group that was in remote Queensland when Jeremiah Rivers went missing has denied trafficking cannabis, in testimony given by video as there is a warrant for his arrest.

Mr Rivers, known as Jayo, disappeared after the seven men stopped at Wippo Creek near Noccundra in southwest Queensland on the way to the Northern Territory in October 2021.

Travis Clare, whose concreting business owned the vehicles in which the men travelled, said he was at first more worried about an estimated $60,000 fine for breaching COVID-19 border restrictions than about Mr Rivers, the Coroners Court sitting in Brisbane was told on Tuesday.

The 27-year-old had previously wandered from the group during the trip from Balranald in NSW, but he had always been barefoot, instead of wearing Nike runners like on the day he went missing.

“After the first day he started limping a bit but I had offered him a pair of shoes a couple of times … but he was adamant he was alright,” Mr Clare said.

Jeremiah Rivers
Jeremiah Rivers disappeared after his group stopped in southwest Queensland on the way to the NT. (HANDOUT/QUEENSLAND POLICE)

A lawyer acting for Mr Rivers’ family has told the inquest his theory is that the missing man got into an argument with his friend Joe Joe Kantilla-Gaden after learning the group was transporting drugs to the Northern Territory.

After calling a mate for help, Mr Rivers put on his running shoes for the first time in days to escape from the group, lawyer Stewart Levitt has suggested.

Mr Clare denied the group was trafficking three pounds of cannabis, saying they offered to take Mr Rivers and Mr Kantilla-Gaden home to the Northern Territory as work was limited due to COVID-19 and the nation’s best pig hunting was said to be near Darwin.

Testifying by video, Mr Clare agreed with Mr Levitt that he was not in the Brisbane court as there is a warrant for his arrest in Queensland.

The warrant was because he failed to appear on an assault charge last year, Mr Levitt said.

Asked what he thought happened to Mr Rivers, Mr Clare said he did not think the 27-year-old was dead as his body would have been found.

Mr Levitt said his theory was that Mr Rivers was grabbed, driven away and shot near Wilson Creek as people reported hearing gunshots in that area around the time of the disappearance.

“That’s a bloody out-there theory,” Mr Clare replied.

Kane Toohey was the last person known to have seen Mr Rivers after checking a yabby net he put out after the group arrived at Wippo Creek.

Mr Rivers asked about finding a bigger area of water to swim and the men laughed about him wearing shoes after days of running around barefoot, Mr Toohey said.

He denied having anything to do with Mr Rivers’ disappearance and said he was not aware of drugs being transported in their vehicles.

Mr Toohey said Mr Levitt’s theory about Mr Rivers being killed was completely wrong and an absolute joke.

Despite the extensive search, a forensic examination, police investigation, a missing persons campaign, use of cadaver dogs and at one stage information provided from a psychic medium, no sign of Mr Rivers or potential foul play was identified.

“It is suspected Jayo has passed,” counsel assisting Sarah Lio-Willie said earlier.

The inquest hearing before Coroner Donald MacKenzie continues.