Falconio detectives swoop on trucker

AN Australian lorry driver was arrested today in connection with the murder of British backpacker Peter Falconio.

Bradley John Murdoch, 45, had just been cleared of rape and abduction charges unrelated to Mr Falconio’s disappearance.

Detectives were waiting outside the South Australian District Court in Adelaide to arrest Murdoch, who had just been cleared of raping a woman and her daughter in South Australia.

The jury returned a majority verdict of not guilty for two counts of rape, two counts of false imprisonment, two counts of indecent assault and one count of common assault. Murdoch was escorted by police out of the court building and taken to a nearby station.

He is scheduled to appear in Adelaide Magistrates’ Court tomorrow morning in connection with the murder of Mr Falconio who has been missing since a gunman attacked him and his girlfriend in July, 2001, on a remote desert highway in central Australia.

Authorities in the Northern Territory province, where the attack occurred, will ask the court to extradite Mr Murdoch to the provincial capital Darwin, a court spokesman said.

Police in the Northern Territory who investigated Mr Falconio’s disappearance did not immediately comment.

No trace has been found of Mr Falconio since he and his girlfriend, Joanne Lees, were attacked.

The couple, from Huddersfield, West Yorkshire, were ambushed by a man near Barrow Creek in the Northern Territory, 200 miles north of Alice Springs.

They were eight months into a round-the-world working trip.

According to Ms Lees, the couple were flagged down by a long-haired man driving a pick-up and when Mr Falconio walked to the rear of the vehicle with the man she heard a shot.

Before she could find out more, she was bound, gagged and bundled into the pick-up.

Miss Lees eventually managed to free herself and fled into the scrub, hiding from her assailant and his dog for several hours.

Her clothes provided the DNA evidence that led to Murdoch’s eventual arrest after one of Australia’s biggest-ever manhunts.

Despite aboriginal trackers, helicopters and motorbikes searching an area of Outback twice the size of France, Mr Falconio’s body was never found.

Police later released a CCTV picture of a potential suspect seen at an Alice Springs garage, which resulted in their first contact with Murdoch.

Throughout Ms Lees’ ordeal, police expressed confidence in her version of events and said they believed that Mr Falconio had been shot dead.

Her story was corroborated by evidence at the scene, including DNA samples believed to be of the gunman.

Following DNA tests, Murdoch was named as the prime suspect in the inquiry into the disappearance of Mr Falconio.