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Last Updated: Monday, 17 October 2005, 13:06 GMT 14:06 UK
Lees 'hid like rabbit' in Outback
Joanne Lees is escorted from the court by two police officers
Ms Lees is the prosecution's main witness
Joanne Lees, the girlfriend of murdered backpacker Peter Falconio, has faced her alleged attacker in a courtroom in Darwin, Australia.

The court heard how Miss Lees, now 32, hid "like a rabbit" for five hours from her attacker in scrub close to the deserted Outback road.

Prosecutors say she fled from Bradley Murdoch who tied her up after shooting Mr Falconio.

Mr Murdoch denies murder and attacking and abducting Miss Lees in July 2001.

Her feet touched the ground and she was off,
Prosecutor Rex Wild on Miss Lees' escape

The pair had been driving across the Australian Outback in a rickety kombi van when they were urged to stop by a fellow driver

The young couple had smoked a cannabis joint and shared a romantic moment watching the sunset from a lay-by north of Alice Springs.

But then around an hour later at about 6.30pm on 14 July, they were flagged down by a man the prosecution alleges to be Bradley Murdoch.

He is said to have signalled from behind that there was a problem with their vehicle's exhaust pipe.

The court then heard how Mr Falconio, 28, from Huddersfield, pulled off the highway and asked Miss Lees, from Brighton, to "rev the engine" while he went to the back of the vehicle.

"It was the last time Joanne Lees saw Peter Falconio alive, nor has anyone else seen him alive from that moment," prosecutor Rex Wild said.

Then she heard a bang which sounded like either a car backfiring or a gunshot, the prosecution claims.

Joanne Lees and Peter Falconio in their camper van
The couple were travelling Australia as part of a round-the-world trip

Looking through the window she saw the man holding a Western-style revolver to her boyfriend's head, the court heard.

The man is then alleged to have approached the window and told her to turn off the engine.

Mr Wild said: "She was very frightened. She was pushed across into the passenger seat and told to bend forward and put her hands behind her back."

When she refused, Mr Wild said, the man held a gun to her head and forced her to do it.

Following a struggle with her attacker Miss Lees says she shouted: "What do you want? Is it money, the van, just take it. Are you going to rape me?"


She was soon bound with plastic cable ties and bundled into the cabin of the pickup truck with a sack over her head, Mr Wild said.

But prosecutors claim Miss Lees would not give up and instead was determined to escape.

And choosing a time when Mr Murdoch was busy, possibly disposing of Mr Falconio's body, she spied light and scrambled through an opening from the cab to the back of the pickup and leapt out, Mr Wild added.

"Her feet touched the ground and she was off," Mr Wild said, "running as fast as she could."

The scene of the alleged murder and attack
Ms Lees claims she hid in the scrub for several hours

She then ran 50-60m (nearly 200ft) and hid in the sparse desert scrub not far from the road, curling up in the foetal position "like a rabbit", prosecutors said.

Her attacker then realised she was missing and as he searched for her, the jury heard, she could hear his footsteps and see his torch sweeping through the darkness.

Some time later Miss Lees heard something being hauled along the gravel and then the sound of her campervan being driven away.

Once confident her attacker had left, she flagged down another passing truck, with her hands still tied, in the early hours of the next day.

The case, which is expected to last up to eight weeks, continues.


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