THE man convicted of murdering Huddersfield backpacker Peter Falconio in the Australian outback is believed to be preparing a fresh appeal.
Bradley Murdoch, 50, was jailed for a minimum of 28 years in 2005 after being convicted of murdering the 28-year-old from Hepworth.
Mr Falconio was travelling around Australia with girlfriend Joanne Lees when he disappeared on July 14 2001. She was taken captive and later escaped to find no trace of her boyfriend and only a pool of blood by the road. Mr Falconio’s body has never been found.
Murdoch, who was arrested for the crime in 2002, has always protested his innocence but has been refused leave to appeal in the past.
However, he is now reported to have applied for legal aid to engage a Perth-based QC called Tom Percy for a fresh appeal, focusing on the DNA evidence which sealed his conviction.
The saga began seven years ago, when Mr Falconio and Miss Lees were driving at night in their camper van from Alice Springs to Darwin when at Barrow Creek.
A vehicle pulled alongside them and the driver said there was a problem with their exhaust.
Mr Falconio got out to look and Miss Lees said she heard a gunshot. She said she was then held at gunpoint by the stranger, who bound her hands with homemade cuffs, tied her legs and put a sack over her head before throwing her in the front of his van. She escaped by climbing into the back of the van, dropping from it and hiding in bushes while he searched for her with his dog.
Murdoch was linked by police to three pieces of DNA evidence in the Falconio case – a speck on Miss Lees’ T-shirt, traces on the homemade cuffs used to restrain her and a trace on the gearstick of the couple’s Volkswagen Kombi 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.
Initially, they were unable to link his DNA to the other two traces. But Dr Jonathan Whitaker, of the British Forensic Science Service, came forward with a new technique called ‘low copy number DNA analysis’. The Wetherby-based scientist used the technique to establish a DNA profile from previously undiscovered traces.
The jury were convinced. But doubt has since been cast on the reliability of the technique by other experts and several high profile trials, including the Omagh bombing case.
Murdoch’s bid for an appeal could mean fresh heartache for Mr Falconio’s family with the possibility of a retrial or a quashing of the conviction. It could also mean Miss Lees may have to step back into the spotlight to relive the ordeal.
Miss Lees, now 34, met Mr Falconio in Huddersfield in 1996 and a year later, went to join him in Brighton where he was studying for a degree.
She published a book in a £250,000 deal two years ago entitled No Turning Back and is now living in a three-bedroom terrace house in Huddersfield, just a few miles from the Almondbury home where her late mother Jennifer lived with her stepfather Vincent James.
She lives at the former mill cottage and is believed to be studying a sociology degree at Sheffield University, following a spell working in a pub.