British tourist tells of escape from gunman in outback hijack

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The Independent Online

A British tourist spoke for the first time on Tuesday about her escape through the Australian outback from a gunman who is feared to have killed her boyfriend.

Joanne Lees, 27, told how both she and Peter Falconio, 28, were held up as they travelled in their camper van on a desert road 175 miles north of Alice Springs, in the Northern Territories. She was tied up by the man and bundled into the back of a van but managed to escape into the bush where she spent several hours hiding from the gunman before raising the alarm.

Miss Lees, a travel agent from Brighton, said: "Everyone can use their imagination about what it was like for me that night, but I was determined to escape and I feel very lucky to survive.

"I honestly do not believe this man would have let me go. He really needs to be captured. I do not think he would hesitate to do it again."

Miss Lees told how she and her boyfriend stopped and refuelled at Ti Tree and watched the sun set. "After we had been driving again for some time, a vehicle drove up alongside us and Pete slowed down, thinking it was going to overtake us – but he drove alongside us," she said. "The man pointed to the back of our vehicle and motioned for us to stop. We then stopped and he pulled up behind us. Pete got out and went to the back of our van and the two were talking amicably and I thought everything was OK.

"Pete then came back to me and asked me to rev the engine so I moved to the driver's side and revved the engine. I then heard a bang. I thought it was something to do with the fault with our Kombi. The next thing I see, out of the back window, is him with a gun. He then came up to me and he opened the door and told me to switch off the engine and pushed me to the passenger side.

"Looking back, whether we stopped or not, I believe that he would have shot our tyres or done something anyway."

The couple left Britain last November to go on a round-the-world trip. Their orange van was found in bushland where the gunman had apparently driven it off the road.

A passing lorry driver said Miss Lees was in an "appalling state" when he picked her up. He said she threw her arms around him and asked where her boyfriend was.

Her stepfather Vincent James, 58, was last night flying out to Australia to be with her. Mr Falconio's father Luciano and brother Paul, 31, were also due to arrive in Australia to meet officers.

Despite searches by police, volunteers and Aborigine trackers, there has been no sign of Mr Falconio, a building surveyor, since the attack late on Saturday. However Commander Max Pope of the Northern Territories Police said the response to an e-fit of the gunman had been excellent, with more than 100 reports of possible sightings.

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