Suspect 'told cellmate he murdered backpacker'

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The Independent Online

A man charged with murdering a British backpacker found beneath a bridge in Queensland last year confessed to a fellow prison inmate, a court was told yesterday.

Ian Douglas Previte, 31, also allegedly confessed to a police officer while he was on suicide watch after being charged in February. Police believe that Caroline Stuttle, a 19-year-old from Yorkshire, was robbed and then fell or was pushed off the 30ft bridge in Bundaberg, a small town 220 miles north of Brisbane.

Yesterday Bundaberg magistrates, who are considering whether to send Mr Previte to trial, heard that he told a fellow prisoner that he killed Ms Stuttle and "threw her off a bridge" in April 2002. The prisoner allegedly told a homicide detective, Terry Lawrence, that Mr Previte had made the admission. In a written statement to the court, another police officer, Senior Constable David Beckett, testified that Mr Previte confessed while in jail in Bundaberg. "I asked him if he was feeling better [afterwards] and he said, 'Yes, it was good to get it off my chest'."

Ms Stuttle, from Huntingdon near York, was on a working holiday in Australia with her best friend, Sarah Holiday. She planned to study psychology at Manchester University on her return. The pair had arrived in Bundaberg a few days earlier, intending to earn some money picking tomatoes.

Ms Stuttle disappeared while walking back to her campsite from the post office where she had telephoned her boyfriend in England. She used her mobile telephone to tell Ms Holiday she was on her way.

She was found on the banks of the Burnett river, which divides the town. She died of head and spinal injuries. Witnesses reported seeing a man following her shortly before she died. Ms Stuttle's handbag was discovered in a sugarcane field a mile away six months later, during the harvesting season.

Mr Previte, who appeared in court unshaven and handcuffed, stood quietly as the murder and robbery charges were read out. He has not yet had to enter a plea.

The court was told the alleged confessions did not tally with DNA evidence found at the scene, including a hair discovered on a railing directly above Ms Stuttle.

Mr Previte was serving a jail sentence in Queensland for an unrelated offence when he allegedly confessed. He was subsequently interviewed, arres- ted and charged.

Months earlier, murder squad detectives had run voluntary DNA tests on the local male population but received no useful leads. Previte did not provide a sample until after he was arrested.

Legal argument centred on police procedure and the admissibility of the alleged conversations. Constable Beckett was asked by Mr Previte's defence lawyer, Dennis Lynch, why he did not write a report after Mr Previte allegedly unburdened himself. The policeman said he did not consider it a confession at the time and did not record the conversation until a month later after being asked by other officers.