THE initial police investigation into the fatal 2002 Abernethy bushfire was "deficient", the coroner in charge of a second inquest said yesterday.
Deputy State Coroner Carl Milovanovich said he would leave it to the Police Commissioner to address whether investigators were adequately trained after saying it was "unfortunate" that the officer who charged Brendan Hokin with another arson did not question him over the Abernethy fire.
The Abernethy fire claimed the life of Sydney businessman Ronald Gillett, destroyed six homes and damaged many more on October 19, 2002.
A 2004 inquest found that the fire was deliberately lit "by persons unknown". That finding was made again in Toronto Coroners Court yesterday.
Mr Milovanovich said the "primary failure" was not to identify Hokin as a suspect even though he had been charged with lighting a fire at Pokolbin.
He was later convicted for arson over that fire.
"That failure would have denied the police the ability to put into place appropriate investigative strategies that could have served to totally exonerate Mr Hokin or in fact implicate him," Mr Milovanovich said.
Abernethy resident Gary Price previously alleged that the Rural Fire Service (RFS) was involved in a cover-up because RFS volunteers either deliberately or accidentally lit the fire.
He told the inquest last week that he no longer believed there was a cover-up and conceded that the fire was not lit by the RFS.
Mr Milovanovich said the inquest was beneficial in "clearly exonerating the RFS from any involvement" in lighting the fire.
RFS acting commissioner Bob Rogers said the investigations "brought considerable strain to some members".
"This inquest, like the first, has found no evidence of the RFS or its members having any wrongful involvement in the fire or the ensuing investigation," he said.
"The coroner today recognised the dedication of the volunteer firefighters who attended the fire and I echo his praise."
John Agius, SC, for the RFS, said Mr Price should receive the "reprobation" of the court for his "attacks", however, Mr Milovanovich said Mr Price was "a well-intentioned member of the public who has been through a very traumatic experience".