Torso found in dam may be murdered Falconio's

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Human remains found at a secluded dam are to be DNA tested to establish they are those of the missing British tourist Peter Falconio.

The lower part of a man's torso was discovered near the town of Marla, in the South Australian Outback, 750 miles from where Mr Falconio and his girlfriend, Joanne Lees, were attacked two years ago. Police said the decomposed remains could not be immediately identified, but that they might be from Mr Falconio.

The 28-year-old from Huddersfield, West Yorkshire, is presumed to have been shot dead in July 2001 by a man who flagged down the couple's camper van on a lonely stretch of highway north of Alice Springs. Bradley Murdoch, a former farm labourer, has been charged with murdering him. Mr Murdoch, 44, is awaiting trial in South Australia on unrelated charges of rape and abduction.

The torso was found at the bottom of the 13ft-deep dam by a farm worker. It was taken to the Marla mortuary and is expected to be moved to Adelaide, the South Australian capital, in the next few days for scientific tests. Police have contacted colleagues in the Northern Territory, but said they were checking all missing persons files nationwide.

Inspector Peter Batley said the torso had been in the water for some time. Whether it had been severed from the rest of the body or was in that state because of decomposition was not clear.

Mr Batley said police were not prepared to speculate on the identity of the remains. "At this point, the checks include all states and not just that particular file [Mr Falconio]," he said. "Nothing is ruled out. We're coming into this with a very open mind. We're not going to discount one thing or another straight away. It's very early days."

Police examined the area around the dam, 20 miles south of Marla, helped by helicopters and local volunteers yesterday. Divers will search the dam today to see if they can find anything else. The tests on the torso could take several weeks.

Ms Lees was tied up by the gunman and thrown into his pick-up truck, but managed to escape. A pool of her boyfriend's blood was found at the scene. Despite the biggest manhunt in Australian history, police took 14 months to decide Mr Murdoch was the prime suspect, having at first discounted him from the inquiry.

He was detained after DNA tests allegedly linked him with a spot of blood found on Ms Lees's shirt. But he will not be handed over to Northern Territory police until he has faced a court in South Australia.

The dam lies at the end of a dirt road, off the Oodnadatta Track in the far north of South Australia. "It's an extremely isolated spot," said a police spokesman. "You have to know where you're going to get there."