Page last updated at 18:21 GMT, Sunday, 23 August 2009 19:21 UK

Austria cellar girl 'still not free'

By Bethany Bell
BBC News, Vienna

Natascha Kampusch spoke to BBC Newsnight in 2008

Three years after her escape, Natascha Kampusch, the Austrian girl who was held in a cellar for eight-and-a-half years, has told Austrian and German newspapers she still does not feel free.

But questions about the case remain.

A government commission, investigating possible irregularities in the way the police handled the case, has suggested that her kidnapper may not have acted alone - something Ms Kampusch disputes.

On 23 August 2006, Ms Kampusch escaped from her kidnapper, Wolfgang Priklopil.

She had been abducted on her way to school in 1998 when she was 10 years old and was held captive for eight-and-a-half years in the town of Strasshof on the outskirts of Vienna.

Much of her time was spent in a basement cell, secured by a heavy vault door.

Shortly after her escape, Priklopil committed suicide.

'Astonishing' expectations

The case made headlines across the world.

Wolfgang Priklopil
Wolfgang Priklopil committed suicide after Natascha escaped

Since then, reports about Ms Kampusch have appeared frequently in the Austrian media.

But now, in several interviews with Austrian and German newspapers, she has spoken of the difficulties she faces in dealing with the intense public scrutiny of her affairs.

"Life in freedom doesn't feel as good as I once imagined," she told Austria's Krone newspaper.

She said her life had "changed radically" on the day of her escape, but that she still does not feel "really free".

She told the Austrian Press Agency that the public's expectations of victims of crime were "astonishing".

She said that if victims tried to hide away, they would be faced with accusations that the public had the right to know what happened.

But if they gave in to pressure and told some of their story, they would be accused of seeking the limelight, and consequently be seen as public figures with little right to privacy, she added.

Increasingly withdrawn

Over the past three years, Natascha Kampusch has appeared in documentaries on Austrian television and even hosted her own chat show, interviewing celebrities including the former Formula One racing driver Niki Lauda.

Natascha Kampusch and Niki Lauda
Natascha Kampusch's first interviewee was Niki Lauda

These days, she appears to be increasingly withdrawn, telling the Krone that she rarely leaves her Vienna flat. She spends her time studying, painting and taking photographs.

"I suffer from anxiety attacks and have become like a hermit crab," she told the Süddeutsche Zeitung.

The shocking case which emerged last year of Josef Fritzl - the Austrian man who imprisoned his daughter in a cellar for 24 years and had seven children with her - may have helped to ease some of the media pressure on Ms Kampusch.

But her chances of being left undisturbed are slight.

'Absurd' concerns

Many questions about the Kampusch case remain.

In February 2008, a government commission was set up to look into possible failures by the police who handled the case.

Priklopil's house
Priklopil's unremarkable home was typical of the area

Recently, members of the commission, including the former head of Austria's constitutional court, Ludwig Adamovich, have raised the possibility that more than one person may have been involved in or known about her kidnapping.

Mr Adamovich told the Austrian magazine Profil that the chances that Priklopil had acted alone were "slim".

According to reports in the Austrian press, commission members were even concerned that Ms Kampusch's life might be in danger, if there were in fact accomplices.

Ms Kampusch herself has dismissed those concerns as "absurd" - telling the Kurier newspaper she knew of no other kidnappers.

She may face more questioning by the authorities over the next few months, as the investigations continue.

"I'm not afraid of more questioning but I find it unpleasant," she told the Kurier.

"I feel like an uprooted orchid," she said. "Some people try to plant me where they would like to have me. But I want to grow in a place I've chosen myself."

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