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Last Updated: Tuesday, 13 December 2005, 14:23 GMT
The fascination of the Falconio case
By Phil Mercer
BBC News, Darwin

Every twist and turn of the Peter Falconio case has been played out amid the unremitting glare of the media.

Joanne Lees
Ms Lees wants Murdoch to say what he did with her boyfriend's body

The trial of Bradley Murdoch in Darwin has attracted up 70 journalists, cameramen and photographers including the BBC.

Over the years the Falconio mystery has proved to be irresistible to writers and broadcasters from Australia to Britain.

Nick Squires, a correspondent with the Daily Telegraph, says the sheer brutality of the murder of Peter Falconio has stirred feelings of both fear and intrigue.

"The thought of a lone gunman with a car full of drugs, cash, firearms and homemade handcuffs rocking around the outback is to many people fascinating and terrifying," he said.

Peter Falconio, a 28-year-old tourist from Huddersfield, was last seen in July 2001.

He was travelling north in a camper van on the Stuart Highway near the tiny community of Barrow Creek in the Northern Territory.

It's one of the most desolate parts of central Australia.

Backpackers particularly are incredibly resilient about this sort of thing
Nick Squires
Daily Telegraph

The road is the main artery connecting the southern coast to the tropics.

On either side is a seemingly endless moonscape.

It was in this barren land that Joanne Lees found sanctuary after escaping from her boyfriend's killer.

Roger Maynard, a Sydney-based reporter for The Times and author of the book, "Where's Peter?", says the case reminds us of how vulnerable we can be in such isolated places.

"It reinforces those fears that people have about Australia," Maynard told the BBC.

"And what might happen to them and the dangers that might be lurking at every spot - whether it's in the form of wild animals, snakes or people," he added.

The disappearance of Peter Falconio and the brave escape of his former girlfriend Joanne Lees have produced millions of column inches in newspapers around the world.

Joanne Lees and the Falconio family react to the verdict
The Falconio case was played out in the media spotlight

Roger Maynard, a veteran foreign correspondent, says it's been one of the most absorbing cases he's ever covered.

"When you sit down and write about it you realise that although it's a story of fact it reads like a story of fiction because it is so mysterious," he said outside the Supreme Court in Darwin.

It's been a big story for Australians. They too have been captivated by it every step of the way.

"It's that kind of case where you think - What's to say it couldn't have been you or me in that situation?" said Anne Barker, a reporter with the Australian Broadcasting Corporation in Darwin.

"So there is a fascination with the ordeal (suffered by Joanne Lees) and the fact that it's in the remote outback."

'Household name'

The trial of Bradley Murdoch has been front-page news around Australia.

Here in the Northern Territory it's been the talk of the town.

"You just have to look at the numbers of people in court every day. You see the same group of woman and men - so obviously it's grabbed their attention," said Anne Barker.

"It doesn't matter who you speak to but everyone has their own view on the case. Peter Falconio is a household name," she added.

The remote outback road near Alice Springs where the murder took place
Peter Falconio was killed in one of the most desolate parts of Australia

It's the same in Britain, where tens of thousands of parents say goodbye every year to their teenage and adult children as they embark on backpacking adventures.

It's not the first time in recent years that a young Briton has died in horrific circumstances in Australia.

The Childers hostel fire in 2000 claimed the lives of 15 travellers, including seven from the UK.

In 2002 the York student Caroline Stuttle died after being thrown from a road bridge during a robbery in Bundaberg.

The serial killer Ivan Milat murdered two British women more than a decade ago.

Despite these tragedies, the Telegraph's Nick Squires believes that Australia will continue to attract young tourists.

"Backpackers particularly are incredibly resilient about this sort of thing," he said:

"They know that statistically you have to be very unlucky for something mysterious and grisly to happen."


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