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Last Updated: Friday, 14 April 2006, 10:33 GMT 11:33 UK
Lees tribute to Falconio officer
Joanne Lees with Mr Falconio's parents and two of his brothers
Mr Falconio's family have always publicly supported Miss Lees
The death of a police officer who worked on the Peter Falconio murder has led to a tribute from the backpacker's girlfriend who survived the attack.

Joanne Lees said Det Sgt Phil Banton, of Sussex Police, helped restore her faith in the police and justice system.

Her tribute to him was read out at the officer's funeral on Thursday.

Mr Falconio met Miss Lees in Yorkshire and they moved to Brighton in 1998. In 2001, Mr Falconio was killed and Ms Lees attacked while in Australia.

Drug runner Bradley Murdoch was found guilty in December of killing 28-year-old Mr Falconio and assaulting Miss Lees at gunpoint on a remote stretch of highway near Barrow Creek, about 200 miles north of Alice Springs.

Phil became my mentor, my rock of support. He made me feel good about myself again
Joanne Lees

The former truck driver was jailed for a minimum of 28 years. He has appealed against the conviction.

Det Sgt Banton, who acted as liaison officer to Miss Lees, died last week of cancer at the age of 47.

'Reclusive and frightened'

The tribute, read out at the funeral in Brighton by Det Supt Martin Cheesman, said: "It was at a pretty low point when Phil came into my life ... I was immediately sceptical and wondered what kind of support he could possibly provide me.

"I'd become reclusive, untrusting and frightened. Quite simply, Phil restored my faith in the police service and the justice system.

"Phil became my mentor, my rock of support. He made me feel good about myself again. That is a gift I will always cherish."

The statement continued: "Late last week I received the news that Phil had passed away. I haven't been able to stop crying since.

"Phil was the person I wanted most to be proud of me. I'm so proud of him."




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