A HUDDERSFIELD family is still suffering – a decade on from the Outback crime which shocked the world.
Tourist Peter Falconio vanished in the Australian wilderness 10 years ago today.
A man has been jailed for his murder but the body of the 28-year-old Hepworth man has never been found.
Mr Falconio was touring Australia with his girlfriend Joanne Lees, then 27, of Almondbury.
The couple were driving through Barrow Creek, north of Alice Springs, in an orange Volkswagen Kombi van on the night of July 14, 2001.
A van pulled alongside them and the driver said there was a problem with the Kombi’s exhaust.
Mr Falconio got out to have a look and Miss Lees heard a gunshot.
She was then held at gunpoint by the driver of the other van, who bound her hands with home-made cuffs, tied her legs and put a sack over her head.
Miss Lees was then thrown in the front of his van.
She managed to escape by climbing into the back of the van and dropping out of the vehicle.
Miss Lees hid in bushes in the freezing cold while the attacker searched for her with his dog.
She managed to escape and flag down a passing HGV which brought her to safety.
Miss Lees reported the ambush to the police, sparking one of the biggest manhunts in Australian history.
Truck driver Bradley Murdoch was arrested two years later and charged with Mr Falconio’s murder.
Miss Lees and Mr Falconio’s family attended every day of the nine-week trial in Darwin in late 2005.
The jury heard that Murdoch was linked to the ambush by three pieces of DNA evidence in the Falconio case – a speck on Miss Lees’ T-shirt, traces on the home-made cuffs used to restrain her and a trace on the gearstick of the couple’s van.
Australian forensic experts found the DNA on the T-shirt was an exact match with Murdoch, making it 150 million billion times more likely to have come from him than anyone else.
The prosecution suggested that Murdoch, high on amphetamines, became paranoid about the couple after seeing them several times while he carried out a drug smuggling run.
Murdoch told the court he was at the same restaurant in Alice Springs as Mr Falconio and Miss Lees on the day of the murder.
But the truck driver claimed he was 350 miles from the murder scene at the time of the shooting.
The jury found Murdoch guilty of murdering Mr Falconio and assaulting and abducting Miss Lees.
Murdoch, then aged 47, was sentenced to serve a minimum of 28 years and sent to the tough Berrimah jail.
In June 2007 the Australian High Court denied him the chance to appeal his conviction.
Bones were discovered 50 miles from the murder scene in December 2010, briefly raising hopes that Mr Falconio’s body had been found.
However, forensic examination revealed the remains were from an animal.
Read on the next page what a journalist who sat through weeks of the court case made of the proceedings and why Joanne Les was vindicated.
A JOURNALIST spoke last night of the trauma of the Huddersfield family whose son was murdered in the Australian outback.
Wesley Johnson covered the trial of Bradley Murdoch in 2006 for news agency the Press Association.
Yesterday he recalled the stress on the family of Peter Falconio, who was murdered in the Outback 10 years ago today.
Mr Johnson told the Examiner: “It was very traumatic for them.
“They had to listen to the details of how their son went off on a gap year to travel round Australia and ended up standing on a highway in the middle of nowhere.
“There was a moment when Peter Falconio’s mother had to leave the court because of the evidence.”
Joanne Lees, girlfriend of the murdered man, also attended the court in Darwin on every day of the nine-week trial in 2005.
Mr Johnson remembered: “She came and listened to the evidence every day, even when it was quite stressful for her.”
Miss Lees also gave evidence as a witness in the trial – at one point demonstrating how she wriggled free from the make-shift hand-cuffs which Murdoch had used to restrain her.
Mr Johnson said: “She left the witness box to have her hands tied up with one of the lawyer’s ties and she showed how she had managed to get free.”
Hundreds of journalists from around the world travelled to Darwin in the north of Australia to cover the trial.
Mr Johnson, who reported on the first three weeks and final three weeks of the trial, said: “It was one of the most high-profile cases I’ve covered.
“We were allowed a set number of seats in the court and then there was the press room. There was also another court room which was set aside for members of the public to watch the case on a video-link.
“I think the level of interest was so high because Peter Falconio’s body hadn’t been recovered and the feeling that what had happened to these two young people could have happened to someone you knew.”
Murdoch was found guilty at 10.30pm local time on December 13, 2005.
Mr Johnson said: “No-one was expecting a verdict at that time but the jury came back in and said they had decided.
“When Bradley Murdoch was found guilty quite late at night is a moment that sticks in my mind.”
Mr Johnson added that the verdict had vindicated Miss Lees.
He said: “I think it was a very tough trial for her. There were a lot of rumours and aspersions and doubts cast on her story but she was completely vindicated in the trial.”
See the next page to find out about the books, films and TV shows the case inspired.
AUTHORS and film-makers have examined the disappearance of Peter Falconio over the past 10 years.
In 2006 Joanne Lees released No Turning Back, her account of her ordeal at the hands of Bradley Murdoch and the trial which followed.
The Huddersfield woman received £250,000 for the book.
Dozens of other books have been written about the case, including The Killer Within by Paul Toohey; Dead Centre by Robin Bowles and Bloodstain by Richard Shears.
The murder of Mr Falconio was also the basis of a television drama four years ago.
Murder in the Outback was shown on ITV in April 2007. Joanne Froggatt, who played Zoe Tattersall in Coronation Street, starred as Joanne Lees.
Murder in the Outback was also aired in Australia, New Zealand and Germany.
The killing was also the subject of an Australian reality TV show in 2008.
The programme – called The One – featured psychics attempting to prove their skill by locating Mr Falconio’s body.
Kali Mountford – MP for Colne Valley at the time – described the reality show as “horrible”.
Charmaine Wilson, one of the three psychics involved in the controversial stunt later admitted it had been a mistake.
She said: “To be honest I thought it was in bad taste.
“I feel for the bereaved family.”