Drifter convicted of Caroline's murder

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A drug-addicted drifter was today sentenced to a life sentence after he was found guilty of murdering British backpacker Caroline Stuttle in Australia.

A drug-addicted drifter was today sentenced to a life sentence after he was found guilty of murdering British backpacker Caroline Stuttle in Australia.

Ian Previte, 32, was also convicted on one count of robbery with personal violence against 19-year-old Miss Stuttle, who plunged 10metres to her death from the Burnett River Bridge, in Bundaberg, during a violent bag snatch on April 10, 2002.

She died instantly when her skull fractured and her spine was severed as she hit the ground, the trial at Bundaberg Supreme Court, Bundaberg in Queensland was told.

Miss Stuttle, from York, was travelling in Australia with a friend and had only been in the farming town on Bundaberg a few days when she was killed.

She was walking home to a caravan park after making a phone call to her boyfriend, Ian Nelson, in England when Previte, who had taken a cocktail of substances, attacked her in an attempt to steal money for drugs.

Today, Previte, wearing a black shirt and grey trousers, showed no emotion as he was jailed for life.

Handing down the sentence, Justice Peter Dutney said: "Miss Stuttle should have been enjoying the holiday of a lifetime.

"Instead, your act of throwing her off a bridge, in the dark, in a strange country, for a miserable few dollars, you killed her in the most dreadful way."

Crown prosecutor Peter Feeney, arguing for a concurrent 10 year sentence to be passed for the charge of robbery, said: "He was preying on a girl walking alone at night."

He added: "There was considerable violence done."

During the trial, the court heard that Previte had smoked marijuana and taken a cocktail of drugs before robbing and murdering Miss Stuttle.

He boasted of the killing during conversations with cellmates which were secretly recorded. He also admitted killing Caroline in a recorded police interview.

He described how Miss Stuttle fought to hold on to her handbag after he grabbed it when he saw her on the bridge. He said he "flung" her around as she struggled and during the struggle she went over the side of the railing.

The jury of seven men and four women took seven hours to reach unanimous guilty verdicts on both charges. The jurors were reduced to 11 last week after one member became ill.

After the verdict, Miss Stuttle's father Alan, who attended the trial, said he was pleased with the result.

He said: "It is a great relief for all the family, it draws a line under this awful situation."

He added: "We are so relieved this matter has finally been put to sleep and I think it is important now we all move forward with great confidence and know this isn't hanging over our heads.

"It has been two-and-a-half years of a great deal of pain and anguish."

Mr Stuttle praised his daughter and her brother Richard, who also attended the trial.

"I am also very proud of my daughter," he said.

"She was doing what she wanted to do, she was in a wonderful country like Australia, she was having the holiday of a lifetime."

Mr Stuttle ended his statement by thanking police and everyone who had offered support to the family.

He said: "God bless the people of Bundaberg and Australia who have given me so much confidence and strength to go on."

Miss Stuttle's mother, Marjorie Marks-Stuttle - who is divorced from her father - said the verdict was "good news".

Minutes after Previte was found guilty she said her feelings were "just relief that justice has seen to be done.

"It's been a very emotional time."

Mrs Marks-Stuttle, who stayed in the UK after being unable to face the ordeal of witnessing the trial, said her grief for Caroline would remain forever.

"My son's out in Australia so he's had to live every day in court. My heart goes out to him. I wish I was there to give him a hug.

"It's good news ... but the grief will never go away."

Following her daughter's murder, Mrs Marks-Stuttle set up Caroline's Rainbow Foundation, a charity which raises awareness of the importance of personal safety when backpacking.

"Her rainbow is always with us ... If we can save another life so parents don't have to go what we've gone through then that will be a relief to help other people," she said.

Information about Caroline's Rainbow Foundation can be found at www.carolinesrainbowfoundation.com