Girlfriend of murdered backpacker admits affair

The British backpacker Joanne Lees confessed yesterday that she had sexual relations with another man while she was living with Peter Falconio and suggested meeting up with him after her boyfriend was killed.

The admission came at the committal hearing in Darwin of Bradley Murdoch, a 45-year-old mechanic charged with Mr Falconio's murder. Ms Lees, who had earlier denied having an affair with a man called Nick in Sydney, also revealed that she was paid £50,000 by Granada Television for an exclusive interview in 2002.

Cross-examined by Grant Algie, for the defence, Ms Lees, 30, admitted on Wednesday that she was corresponding with Nick via a separate e-mail account at the time of Mr Falconio's death in July 2001.

She and her boyfriend were stopped on the Stuart Highway, north of Alice Springs, by a gunman who allegedly murdered Mr Falconio, 28, and tried to abduct her. His body has never been found.

Yesterday Ms Lees was asked again if she had a sexual relationship with Nick over a period of weeks, in the months before the attack. After a long pause, Ms Lees replied: "I'm going to answer 'yes', but I wouldn't class it as an affair or a relationship." She said that police questioned her about the other man a month after Mr Falconio disappeared.

Mr Algie asked her if she was still corresponding with Nick after Mr Falconio's death. "I was," she answered. "In the course of that correspondence, were you making arrangements to meet up with Nick in Berlin on the way home?" he asked. Ms Lees denied that but, under further questioning, said she had suggested that they meet in Berlin "maybe, at a later date".

She and Mr Falconio, her boyfriend of six years, both from Huddersfield, West Yorkshire, spent five months living together in Sydney before setting off on a tour of Australia.

Mr Algie said the questions were vital to Ms Lees's credibility, since the picture she had painted of a loving and harmonious relationship with Mr Falconio was not necessarily true.

After her third day in the witness box, Ms Lees flew out of Australia yesterday. She arrived three weeks ago and was kept at an undisclosed location protected by police.

The committal also heard evidence from Vincent Millar, a lorry driver who picked up Ms Lees after she ran out of bushes where she had hidden from the gunman for several hours. Mr Millar told the court that he shouted to his companion, Rodney Adams: "Rod, we've got some sheila out here all bloody tied up - want to come down and give us a hand?" He said that at first he feared he had hit the woman with his 40m-long truck after she ran out into the highway. He swore loudly, waking Mr Adams. "I swerved to miss her, but I thought she went under," he said. "[Then] I heard this clip-clop coming down the road and some lady saying 'help, help'."

Mr Adams said Ms Lees was almost hysterical and suffering from shock. The two men took her to the nearby Barrow Creek hotel, where they alerted police.

The hearing continues today.

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