Backpacker 'was pushed off bridge by drug addict looking for money'

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An Australian man went on trial yesterday accused of murdering the 19-year-old British backpacker Caroline Stuttle, who was pushed off a bridge during a robbery two years ago.

The gap-year student, who was from York, died after falling 30 feet from the Burnett River Bridge in the farming town of Bundaberg, 220 miles north of Brisbane in Queensland.

Ian Douglas Previte is accused of robbery and murder. The Supreme Court in Bundaberg heard that Previte, 32, was looking for money for drugs when he stole the backpacker's bag as she walked back to a campsite after telephoning her boyfriend in England.

"There was an episode of considerable violence on the walkway," said Peter Feeney, the prosecutor, in his opening address. "Previte ignored her screams of terror and forced her over the railing." Mr Feeney said the young woman died instantly when her skull was fractured and her spine severed as she hit the ground below.

Although Mr Previte has pleaded not guilty to murder and robbery, Mr Feeney told the jury of seven men and five women that the former drug addict had confessed three times - once to jail inmates, once to police, and also by writing it on a picnic table in the town.

Ms Stuttle's brother was in court yesterday as the trial began. "We still miss her every day. It gets a little bit easier, but it's still very, very difficult most days," said Richard Stuttle, 27.

Mr Previte arrived for the opening day of what is expected to be a three-week trial with a towel draped over his head as his car was driven through a crowd of reporters. Approximately 100 witnesses, including four from England, are due to give evidence.

Ms Stuttle, who was travelling through Australia with a friend before starting a psychology course at Manchester University, had been working as a tomato picker in Bundaberg for just a few days on 10 April 2002 when she was killed.

Her mother, Marjorie Marks-Stuttle, 56, said she decided not to attend the trial as it would have been "just too hard to imagine" to come face to face with the man accused of murdering her daughter. She said she would be keeping in close touch with her son. "We just hope that Caroline receives the justice she deserves for what was such a horrible and unnecessary crime."

"It has taken such a long time to come to court and the whole experience has been unbelievably distressing for the family. Our lives will never be the same again, but all we hope now is that the person who committed this crime is sentenced for a long, long time. We want to know that the person responsible for Caroline's murder doesn't get the chance to put another family through the living hell we have all had to been through. My daughter was killed over a few dollars."

Since her daughter's death, Mrs Marks-Stuttle and her second husband, David Marks, 58, have set up the Rainbow Foundation Charity to help British backpackers in Australia in Caroline's memory.

Ms Stuttle's father, Alan, who is flying to Australia later this week, described his daughter as a vibrant young woman, full of energy.

"I'm quite relieved that something is coming to fruition and let's hope justice can be done. We have to remember that this man is innocent until proven guilty but if he did kill Caroline we have to make sure he doesn't kill anyone else.

"It's been hell on earth but the important thing is that we don't have a recurrence of this heinous crime."