Outback police discover DNA from third person

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The Independent Online

After more than three frustrating weeks of fruitless searches and false leads police yesterday revealed the first scientific evidence which could back up Outback ambush victim Joanne Lees' nightmare account of her boyfriend's kidnap.

In the first tangible breakthrough DNA samples have been recovered from Ms Lees' clothing which police believe may be from the gunman who tried to abduct her and shot Peter Falconio. John Daulby, the Northern Territory Police Assistant Commissioner, said: "It's a small but significant breakthrough in that DNA from a third person has been found on the clothing of Joanne."

The samples, which could place another person at the remote crime scene 200 miles north of Alice Spring, were being compared with DNA profiles in databases around Australia and overseas including New Zealand and the UK.

Swabs taken from rescuers, including a truck driver who came into contact with Ms Lees after her ordeal, have established the DNA comes from an as yet unknown man. A forensic biologist will now be brought back to Alice Springs to re-examine the kombi van driven by two British tourists. Mr Daulby said that while the DNA was not a milestone it was the first small clue that could solve the case. "We have found and have established a DNA profile of a male person on the clothing of Joanne Lees," he said. "To date this is significant and clearly is not Joanne's and clearly is not Peter's."

Mr Falconio, 28, has been missing presumed dead since he was shot by the gunman who tied up and gagged Ms Lees, 27, on the Stuart Highway north of Alice Springs on 14 July.

In the absence of developments there has been speculation that Ms Lees might not have been telling the whole story despite police vigorously defending her credibility, supporting her version of events and denying she was a suspect.

In the UK, Ms Lees' mother said the discovery of DNA evidence backed her daughter's version of events. Jennifer James, 53, said: "It's disgusting that people have doubted Joanne's story. The discovery of this DNA sample proves what she has been saying is correct and I hope it leads to the killer being caught and Peter being found."

Police said Ms Lees had been very helpful with their inquiries but they refused to reveal how the DNA was left on her clothing or enter into speculation about it. "All I can say is, it could be, from us, from our side of things it's a positive finding, it's just a matter now of determining whose DNA that is," said Mr Daulby.

Police said Mr Falconio's father Luciano flew home to the UK from Darwin on Wednesday. Mr Falconio and his other son Paul arrived from England within days of the crime and said they did not intend to go home without Peter.