Australia delays release of film as Falconio trial starts

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The Independent Online

Distributors of the thriller, Wolf Creek, agreed not to screen the film in Australia's Northern Territory after prosecutors expressed concern it would prejudice next week's trial of Bradley Murdoch, the former mechanic accused of murdering Peter Falconio.

Mr Falconio, 28, disappeared four years ago after he and his girlfriend, Joanne Lees, fell victim to an attempted abduction on a remote highway. Ms Lees, now 32, managed to struggle free from her bonds after she was tied up and dumped in the back of a pick-up truck. She arrived in the northern city of Darwin from Britain yesterday ahead of Monday's trial, at which she is expected to be the star witness.

Prosecutors became concerned about the impact of the film, a low-budget production completed earlier this year, after it emerged that it was partly based on the Falconio case. The film tells the story of three travellers in a remote corner of Australia who are abducted when they accept help from an apparently friendly local who is unmasked as a psychopath.

Chief Justice Brian Martin said concern had been expressed to him after prosecutors arranged a private viewing. As a result, the distributor, Roadshow Films, agreed to postpone its release in the Northern Territory until the conclusion of the trial, which is expected to last up to eight weeks.

The judge said in a statement: "Whether the movie would or would not have prejudiced the trial remains undecided. I have now been provided a copy of a letter in which Roadshow has indicated that it respects the overriding concern of this court that release of the movie should not prejudice this trial."

The trailer for the film, featuring Polaroid-style photographs of the travellers, including one bearing a close resemblance to Ms Lees, states: "30,000 are reported missing in Australia every year; 90 per cent are found within a month. Some are never seen again." Mr Falconio's body has never been found.

The Briton was driving a campervan with Ms Lees on 14 July 2001, when a gunman ambushed the pair by pretending to have car trouble on the highway leading north from Alice Springs.

Murdoch, 47, who denies murdering Mr Falconio and abducting his girlfriend, was arrested months after the attack on an unrelated rape charge. He is accused of luring Mr Falconio to the rear of his pick-up truck and shooting him. Ms Lees told police she was grabbed by her abductor and tied up. After escaping she hid for several hours before flagging down a lorry.

Members of Mr Falconio's family also arrived in Darwin this week. His brother, Nick said: "It's been a long time, over four years now, and it's time we got some conclusion. I'm just here to do justice for my brother."

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