Murdoch gets life for backpacker murder

A VIOLENT drug smuggler was yesterday found guilty of murdering Peter Falconio, the British backpacker who vanished on a remote stretch of desert road in the Australian Outback four years ago.

Bradley John Murdoch, 47, was also convicted of abducting and assaulting Joanne Lees, Mr Falconio's girlfriend, in the attack which took place on the Stuart Highway, near Barrow Creek, about 200 miles north of Alice Springs, on 14 July, 2001.

Yesterday, Miss Lees, who has endured years of suspicion since the attack to which she was the only witness, asked Murdoch to reveal the location of Mr Falconio's body.

Murdoch, a mechanic, had flagged down the couple, who were touring the Outback in a camper van. He then shot Mr Falconio, threatened Miss Lees with the gun and tied her hands behind her back. During the struggle Murdoch left a DNA stain on Miss Lees' T-shirt. Miss Lees was able to escape and then hid before being rescued by a passing lorry driver.

After an eight-week trial at the Northern Territory Supreme Court in Darwin, the jury yesterday delivered a unanimous guilty verdict on Murdoch who was sentenced to life imprisonment by the Chief Justice, Brian Martin.

Outside the court Miss Lees, 32, a care worker from Brighton, stood side-by-side with Mr Falconio's parents and two brothers and urged Murdoch to reveal what he had done with her boyfriend's body. She said: "I would like Bradley John Murdoch to seriously consider telling me, Joan and Luciano [Mr Falconio's parents] what he has done with Pete."

This is considered unlikely as Murdoch's lawyer, Grant Algie, told the court he had been instructed to appeal.

After the trial it emerged that Murdoch was obsessed by guns, and also with the Falconio case. It also emerged that he was arrested for Mr Falconio's murder by police investigating the rape of a 12-year-old girl. In November 2003, he was found not guilty of charges of rape, false imprisonment and assault following a case which had several similarities to Mr Falconio's murder.

Prosecutors had alleged that Murdoch raped a 12-year-old girl before abducting her and her mother "for insurance" while in a state of drug-fuelled paranoia that police were framing him in the Falconio case. During the mother and daughter's 25-hour ordeal at Swan Reach, in Riverland, South Australia, in August 2002, Murdoch allegedly denied killing Mr Falconio.

Murdoch had told the mother and daughter, who thought they were his friends, that he was "on the run" because the police had framed him. Two years later, the jury trying Murdoch for murder heard he had put black cable ties around Miss Lees' wrists and tried to put tape around her legs, but she kicked out and he was unable to tighten it. He tried a similar method of binding the 12-year-old girl.

Miss Lees also told the murder trial that her attacker was driving a white four-wheeled drive vehicle, similar to a Toyota Landcruiser, which had a dark-coloured canopy over its rear. Two years earlier, the alleged rape victim, said Murdoch had a white Landcruiser with a green canopy.

Miss Lees' attacker covered her head with a sack during the attack and tried to tape her mouth shut. The girl said she was blindfolded and her mouth was taped.

Officers who arrested Murdoch discovered weapons inside his van, including a high-powered rifle, and night vision goggles .

They also discovered a jockey whip, five pairs of disposable gloves and two long handled shovels.