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Last Updated: Monday, 17 May, 2004, 05:03 GMT 06:03 UK
Falconio court hearing under way
Peter Falconio and Joanne Lees
Peter Falconio and Joanne Lees were ambushed in the outback
An Australian mechanic has appeared in court charged with the murder of British backpacker Peter Falconio.

Bradley John Murdoch, 45, was flanked by security guards for a committal hearing that is expected to last up to six weeks.

Mr Murdoch was not required to enter a plea to charges of murdering Falconio and abducting and assaulting his girlfriend Joanne Lees.

He sat and took notes as prosecutors began outlining their case.

About 40 witnesses will give evidence at the hearing, which is scheduled to run for three weeks before adjourning until August, when it will run another three weeks.

At the end of the hearing, magistrate Alasdair McGregor will decide whether evidence is strong enough to merit a full jury trial.

Falconio's brother Paul was the first witness and he told the court that he had not heard from his brother since his disappearance.

"The last time I spoke to him was approximately one month before he went missing," Mr Falconio told the court.

"My mother actually spoke to him only a day or so before."

Mysterious circumstances

Mr Falconio disappeared in mysterious circumstances and his body has never been found.

Mr Murdoch is alleged to have ambushed the couple while they were travelling through the Australian outback in 2001.

Ms Lees says she heard a shot being fired before she was allegedly forced into Mr Murdoch's truck

Mr Murdoch, who comes from Broome, western Australia, has denied the charges.

If convicted of murder, Mr Murdoch, a mechanic and truck driver, faces life imprisonment.

Ms Lees, from Huddersfield, is staying in the northern city of Darwin, in the Northern Territory, at an undisclosed location.

The BBC's Phil Mercer
"The defendant, who was casually dressed, sat taking notes and occasionally shook his head"


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