Police admit vital details may be missing in Lees's testimony

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The Independent Online

Australian police admitted yesterday that they haddoubts about Joanne Lees's account of her ordeal at the hands of a gunman who killed her boyfriend, Peter Falconio.

Australian police admitted yesterday that they haddoubts about Joanne Lees's account of her ordeal at the hands of a gunman who killed her boyfriend, Peter Falconio.

Superintendent Jeanette Kerr told Darwin magistrates' court that detectives sent audio tapes of interviews with Ms Lees to linguistic experts for analysis. The experts all concluded that vital details could be missing from her account.

Supt Kerr was giving evidence at a committal hearing for Bradley Murdoch, 45, a former mechanic charged with murdering Mr Falconio and attempting to abduct Ms Lees in July 2001. She told police that a gunman in a pick-up truck tricked the couple, from Huddersfield, West Yorkshire, into stopping on a highway at night.

The court heard that Ms Lees, 30, underwent two sessions of hypnotherapy at the request of police in Alice Springs. "It was an attempt to elicit more information from Ms Lees in relation to the incident," Supt Kerr said.

She told the magistrate, Alasdair McGregor, that police were so troubled by apparent gaps and inconsistencies in Ms Lees's account that they questioned her again in August 2001, for three hours. She had already been interviewed twice, in the days after the alleged attack.

Under cross-examination by Grant Algie, Supt Kerr said there were doubts about whether Ms Lees's injuries were consistent with her description of events. Police also questioned her ability to have overheard a conversation between the gunman and Mr Falconio, said to have taken place while the engine of the couple's van was running.

Ms Lees has told the committal hearing that, after Mr Falconio got out and went to the back of the van, she heard the gunman tell him that sparks were coming out of their exhaust. She also said she heard a loud bang, like a gunshot.

After that, she testified, the gunman tied her up and put her in his truck. She said she escaped and hid under a tree for five hours, and that the gunman searched for her.

But the court heard yesterday that Aboriginal trackers brought in by police found no footprints apart from hers at the scene, or any forensic evidence of a body having been dragged anywhere, "be it Mr Falconio or anyone else", Mr Algie said.

Supt Kerr agreed that Ms Lees was not suffering from frostbite when she was rescued by a passing lorry, which experts would expect.

Mr Murdoch denies murdering Mr Falconio, whose body has never been found.

The committal hearing, now in its third week, will determine whether he is sent to trial.

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