Police release pictures of ambush suspect

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The Independent Online

Police in Australia's Northern Territory released closed-circuit television pictures yesterday of a man fitting the description of the suspect who is believed to have kidnapped and murdered the British backpacker Peter Falconio.

The photographs, which show the man buying diesel, ice and water at a truck stop a few hours after the attack, came as an autopsy was conducted on the decomposed body of a man who was found along the same Outback highway as the attack.

Police confirmed last night that the body, found by Aboriginal travellers 200 miles south of the crime scene at Barrow Creek on the Stuart Highway, was not that of the missing Mr Falconio.

Officers had said they were fairly confident that it was not Mr Falconio even before the scientific tests because he was not wearing the same clothing as the Briton had on when he was last seen alive.

The dead man, whose name was not released until his relatives had been contacted, had apparently died from stab wounds to the neck. Police had said earlier that the discovery was unlikely to be connected with Mr Falconio's mysterious disappearance in the Australian bush.

Joanne Lees, who survived the ambush three weeks ago, and Mr Falconio's brother, Peter, remained in Alice Springs while they waited for the post mortem result. The pair, who are staying in central Australia hoping for news of Mr Falconio, were asked not to view the body to avoid putting them under further stress. "The significant thing out of this inquiry to date is that it's not Peter Falconio," Assistant Commissioner John Daulby from Northern Territory police told the press last night. The images of Mr Falconio's attacker and his white pick-up truck were taken by a security video camera at a service station in Alice Springs in the early hours of Sunday 15 July.

His canvas-covered vehicle is shown parked in the truck area. The pictures show he headed south after the attack, towards the area wherethe body was discovered. Police would not speculate whether the body might be that of the gunman or indeed another possible victim. Mr Falconio, 28, and Ms Lees were ambushed as they were travelling in their van about 190 miles north of Alice Springs. Miss Lees, 27, from Almondbury, near Huddersfield, told police she was tied up and gagged but managed to struggle free and escape into the bush. Mr Falconio has not been seen since and police are not hopeful of finding the Briton alive.

Officers have mounted a huge land and air search across large areas of Australia. Despite repeated appeals for information and the circulation of various E-fit descriptions of the attacker, so far they have found only some suspicious DNA materialon Ms Lees' clothes that could be a link to the gunman.