Suspect in Sydney harbour murder case brought to trial

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The latest chapter in a murder mystery that has lasted more than a decade is gripping Sydney all over again, following the extradition from Britain of a former gym instructor suspected of murdering his model girlfriend by throwing her off a cliff.

Gordon Wood, 43, arrived on a Qantas flight from London last night, flanked by two New South Wales detectives. He was taken to a Sydney police station, where he was charged with killing Caroline Byrne in 1995. Ms Byrne's body was found at the bottom of a 100ft cliff at The Gap, a wild and beautiful spot at the mouth of Sydney Harbour.

She was initially thought to have committed suicide. The Gap is a popular place for those seeking to end their lives. But her father, Tony, did not believe it, and waged a campaign to have the case reopened.

Mr Wood, who was born in Bath in England, lived with Ms Byrne in Sydney's vibrant and eclectic Kings Cross. He was a driver for Rene Rivkin, the flamboyant Australian stockbroker who committed suicide last year after serving a prison sentence for insider trading. Mr Rivkin doted on him, showering him with gifts including a car and a gold watch, and taking him on holiday to the Greek islands.

Ms Byrne's friends believe that at the time of her death, aged 24, she was planning to leave Mr Wood. He was besotted with her and followed her around, they claimed, sitting outside restaurants where she was having lunch and telephoning her up to 10 times a day.

Mr Wood has always denied murdering her, and an inquest in 1998 delivered an open finding on whether she jumped, fell or was pushed. Soon afterwards he left Australia, and is believed to have lived around Europe since then, as well as travelling to the United States. Most recently he was in London, where he had reinvented himself as a business consultant and also worked as a gym instructor for LA Fitness, which owns a chain of gyms.

It was at his £600-a-week apartment in the City that Scotland Yard detectives arrested him a month ago. He had a one-way ticket booked to the US. He was refused bail and detained in Brixton prison. The Home Secretary, Charles Clarke, approved his extradition late last month.

It was via Mr Rivkin that Mr Wood acquired a taste for the high life. An economics graduate who had moved to South Africa and then to Australia as a child, he had flitted between jobs, working at different times as an actor, fitness instructor and photographer. Mr Rivkin gave him an entrée into a glamorous world of money and fast cars, nightclubs and parties.

Mr Wood claimed that on the day of Ms Byrne's death, he was driving Mr Rivkin and Graham Richardson, a former Labour cabinet minister, to and from an Italian restaurant. When she failed to come home that night, he alerted police and led them to The Gap, saying that her spirit had guided him there.

He was interviewed by police on several occasions, but it was only after they carried out further investigations last year, including a re-enactment of her death, that they were ready to charge him. Witnesses told police that they saw Ms Byrne at The Gap with two men.

Detectives also believe that the position of her body - found 30ft away from the cliffs - meant that she could not have jumped.

During the extradition proceedings in London, the prosecution told the court Mr Wood allegedly threw Ms Byrne off the cliff after an argument. He is expected to apply for bail today in a Sydney court. Mr Richardson is expected to be among the witnesses if his case goes to trial.

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