DNA test shows crime scene blood was backpacker's

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Australian police investigating the suspected murder of the British backpacker Peter Falconio said on Friday that blood found at the crime scene matched the DNA of the missing man. The blood was compared with samples provided by Mr Falconio's distraught father and brother, who flew in from Britain two days ago.

A week ago Mr Falconio, 28, and his girlfriend, Joanne Lees, 27, were tricked by a gunman into stopping their Volkswagen van on the Stuart Highway near Barrow Creek, 807 miles south of Darwin in the Northern Territory and he has not been seen since. A massive search with aircraft and Aboriginal trackers has failed also to find the gunman.

"We now believe the blood found at the scene is that of Peter Falconio," said Max Pope, commander of the Northern Territory police.

Mr Pope said the news had been given to Mr Falconio's relatives, who have been holding out hope that he is still alive. "It's a very difficult time for them and such news makes it more difficult," he said.

Police believe the gunman could be an experienced bushman. They have few hopes that Mr Falconio is still alive.

About 1,000 possible sightings and other leads in three states have been investigated but have not yet produced any solid information, although an élite tactical response police unit returned to the crime scene yesterday to follow up fresh information.

Police in Oodnadatta, a small town south of Alice Springs, killed a gunman in a shoot-out yesterday but he was not believed to be the suspect sought in Mr Falconio's disappearance.

Mr Pope said police found only three of Ms Lees's footprints at the scene of the attack. However, he said he was not surprised. "The surface is very hard dirt. She took many steps and only three turned up."

In a statement read out by Mr Falconio's brother, Paul, Ms Lees has denied reports that she was sexually assaulted in her ordeal. "I believe there has been speculation I was sexually assaulted. This did not occur," she said.