Seven-year manhunt for 'Australia's most wanted' fugitive Malcolm Naden ends

  • @kathymarksoz

After seven years on the run, Australia's most wanted man was finally behind bars today following a police raid prompted by a tip-off.

Malcolm Naden, whose survival skills and ability to outwit police evoked comparisons with 19th century bushranger Ned Kelly, went on the run in 2005, shortly after his 24-year-old cousin, Kristy Scholes, was found strangled.

For nearly seven years Malcolm Naden evaded police, hiding out in the steep, thickly-forested bush of northern New South Wales, living off the land and stealing food and weapons from rural properties.

Dishevelled, muddy and sporting a bushy beard, the 38 year-old appeared in court today barefoot and shackled, to be charged with Ms Scholes's death, as well as the aggravated indecent assault of a 15-year-old girl.

Last seen just before Christmas, when he shot an officer as police closed in on his remote bush camp, Mr Naden was tracked to a house in Gloucester, 160 miles north of Sydney, early today. He tried to escape through a back door, but was bitten by a police dog and captured.

The former sheep shearer and abattoir worker had led police on a frustrating hunt, criss-crossing the remote and rugged Tablelands region, living off wild fruit and nuts and shooting wombats and wallabies. He also raided homes to steal supplies, and sheltered in farm buildings.

Police had deployed helicopters, dog squads, snipers and sophisticated tracking and thermal detection equipment, but in the end an old-fashioned tip-off - they have not said from whom - led them to Mr Naden.

Rebutting criticism of the time it took to catch Mr Naden, NSW police commissioner, Andrew Scipione, called him a "master bushman" who knew the area "better than the back of his hand".

Numerous sightings of Mr Naden were reported over the years, with one woman claiming to have woken up to find him in her bedroom dressed in camouflage gear. Fingerprints linked him to a series of burglaries.

According to anecdotes, he sometimes returned to replace stolen goods and washed up after helping himself to food.

A Gloucester businessman, Graham Holstein, said: "Most of the people in outlying areas will be very happy to hear the news. He was a dangerous guy that needed to be caught."

Police had posted a reward of $250,000 (£164,000) for information leading to his capture, the first such bounty offered since Ned Kelly and his gang went on the run in rural Victoria in 1878.

While Kelly was regarded as a hero and Robin Hood figure by many ordinary Australians, Mr Naden - also suspected of involvement in the disappearance of another of his cousins, Lateesha Nolan - has a far less romantic image.

According to local media reports, he spent his days locked in his bedroom in Dubbo, western New South Wales, reading the Bible, crime novels and survival manuals, before becoming a fugitive. He reportedly became obsessed with religion and was convinced that Armageddon was nigh.