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Flashback Roger Maynard, who reported on the case in 2001, on Peter Falconio’s murder

As police launch a new appeal, Roger Maynard, who reported on the case in 2001, reflects on the murder of Peter Falconio

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I have a vivid recollecti­on of my fax machine bursting into life on Sunday morning, 15 July 2001, and spewing out a press release from the Northern Territory police in Australia that at first looked like a traffic report. Headlined: ‘Warning to Territory drivers,’ it advised motorists to avoid the Stuart Highway after an incident at Barrow Creek the night before. It then revealed that a woman and her boyfriend had been stopped by a driver who was described as ‘armed and dangerous’.

The woman had escaped, but there were grave fears for her missing boyfriend. Further details emerged as the day wore on, including the fact that the victims were two Yorkshire backpacker­s, Joanne Lees, 27, from Huddersfie­ld, and Peter Falconio, 28, from Hepworth.

I quickly realised that this was going to be a big story, especially in Britain. I had been working in Australia as a reporter for UK newspapers for 14 years and was familiar with the media’s appetite for British tourists who were stabbed or shot, attacked by sharks or crocthe

odiles, or lost in the outback. But nothing had prepared me for the many twists and turns the Falconio case would take.

I flew out to Alice Springs and ended up in a motel room on a cool, wet Monday evening, not unlike the weather Joanne Lees had experience­d as she huddled beneath a bush to hide from her attacker some 48 hours earlier.

Her terrifying ordeal had begun as she and Falconio were driving north from Alice Springs in their 30-year-old camper van. It was dark and the couple noticed a vehicle following them. The driver drew alongside and urged them to pull over, saying something about a problem with the camper van’s exhaust.

This was no surprise, given the vehicle had been backfiring earlier. Falconio got out and asked his girlfriend to rev the engine while he joined the man at the back of the vehicle. What Lees initially thought was a bang from the exhaust turned out to be a gunshot.

She never saw Falconio again. Seconds later the driver of the truck pointed a revolver at Lees, pushed her into the passenger seat and tied her hands behind her back. Somehow she ended up face down on the roadside with her attacker straddled across her back attempting to tie black tape around her legs.

He then marched her to his vehicle, threw her into the cab and dealt with Falconio’s body, presumably hiding it or burying it. To this day it has not been found. Lees managed to escape and hid. Luckily, the gunman failed to find her and drove off. After four to five hours she was rescued by driver of a passing truck.

In the weeks and years to follow, sections of the police, press and public began to doubt Lees’s story. Why was there no gunshot residue on her clothing, given the attacker had just shot Falconio? Why was there only a tiny speck of the killer’s DNA found on her shirt, when, arguably, there should have been much more transferre­d when he tied her up? In the end, the police did find a match for the DNA on Lees’s shirt. It came from Bradley Murdoch, a mechanic who had a sideline running cannabis. He was convicted of murdering Falconio and sentenced to life imprisonme­nt. Murdoch, now 63, has always maintained his innocence and although he has lost one appeal, is rumoured to be seeking another.

His supporters argue that apart from the DNA, all the other evidence against him was largely circumstan­tial. Without a motive or a body, the case remains a mystery and continues to make headlines.

This month, on the 20th anniversar­y, Northern Territory police issued an appeal for informatio­n that might lead to the discovery of Falconio’s remains in the hope of ‘gaining some sort of closure’ for his family. It might also provide some comfort for Lees, who has spent the past two decades trying to get her life back together. But given the vast and inhospitab­le terrain and the length of time that’s passed, finding anything in the outback is an unlikely prospect. Murder in the Outback is available to watch on All 4

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 ?? Bradley Murdoch ?? Above Joanne Lees and Peter Falconio in Australia. Below
Bradley Murdoch Above Joanne Lees and Peter Falconio in Australia. Below
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