Victim of Outback attack felt 'vulnerable and pressured' by police after boyfriend's murder

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The Independent Online

Joanne Lees, giving evidence in Darwin on the third day of the trial of Bradley Murdoch, the Australian lorry driver accused of killing Mr Falconio four years ago, said she was "very positive" that she had identified his killer.

The jury was shown a video of her identifying Mr Murdoch, who is alleged to have attacked Ms Lees and killed Mr Falconio, 28, on the Stuart Highway north of Alice Springs on 14 July 2001.

In the short video from 2002, Miss Lees was shown 12 passport-style photographs of men and, within a minute, pointed to one of them and told police: "I think it's number 10." In court yesterday the judge, Chief Justice Brian Martin, asked her how sure she was that the man she identified was her attacker. She said: "I was very positive."

The video footage was taken by officers at Hove police station on 18 November 2002 of an interview between Ms Lees, Detective Inspector Phil Warner from Sussex Police and two Australian female detectives from the Northern Territory.

During cross-examination by the defence counsel Grant Algie, Ms Lees said she had not felt any heat from the barrel of the gun when it was put to her forehead, nor did she smell gunpowder. She also denied seeing the handcuffs or tape that were used to bind her hands together behind her back.

"I didn't look to see what he had in his left hand. I was looking at the gun."

Ms Lees told the jurors that she heard the sound of a vehicle backfiring, or a gunshot, while she was in the camper van. She said: "I just remember looking straight ahead of me at first, thinking, 'Oh my God, what's happened to my vehicle? Is it something I've done to cause that?' and then I look and he's there, at the side of me. After that, I was just looking at his face, into his eyes and at his gun."

Mr Algie asked why she had not looked for Mr Falconio when she was taken from her camper van to the other vehicle after hearing the possible gunshot.

"Because the man had his hand on my neck," she said. "He was slightly behind me but turning his body and I was just looking where he was leading me."

"Why didn't you glance to see if he was OK?" Mr Algie asked.

"I was concerned for my own life," she replied. Ms Lees also insisted that the attacker's dog, which was in the cabin of his vehicle, did nothing but stare straight ahead as she screamed and struggled with the man.

Mr Algie asked her how it was possible to suffer injuries to her elbows when she fell forwards on to the gravel with her arms tied behind her back. Ms Lees said: "It must be possible because I suffered them."

In the days after being attacked Ms Lees said she felt pressured, vulnerable and "not entirely safe" as she criticised the police operation to find her boyfriend's killer. She said that after being rescued fromthe remote desert highway - where she hid for five hours before flagging down a road-train lorry - police officers left her with a woman she had only met that night.

She said she could not sleep, was afraid of being in the dark and felt pressured to work through the following night to create a computer-generated image of her attacker.

Ms Lees, 32, of Brighton, said: "I felt pressure to get some photo out there to the public so people could be looking for this person.

"The police, they left me in the care of a woman I didn't know. I had only met her at Barrow Creek. I didn't know her or her family. I didn't feel entirely safe or secure, I still felt vulnerable. I didn't sleep. I was afraid of the dark so I just always slept with the light on. I didn't sleep for days, I just rested."

The body of Mr Falconio has never been found

Mr Murdoch, 47, of Broome, Western Australia, denies murder, depriving Ms Lees of her personal liberty and unlawfully assaulting her in aggravating circumstances at the Northern Territory Supreme Court in Darwin. The trial continues.

CCTV image of suspect was 'too poor to be sure'

Joanne Lees told the court yesterday that a man captured on CCTV in Alice Springs was her boyfriend's killer despite telling police initially that the man in the footage was "too old" to be her attacker. In court she said: "Yes, that is the man who attacked me."

Asked why she changed her mind, she said: "The police were able to show me a better quality picture."

Ms Lees also admitted doubting her account of how she moved from the front to the rear of her attacker's vehicle. "The police told me that there was no such vehicle that has front to rear access."

On the second day of the trial Ms Lees changed her account of this part of the alleged attack by Bradley Murdoch in her testimony. She had initially claimed that she was pushed by him from the front seat of his truck into the back. But she said she could have been pushed "through the side of the cabin" to the rear compartment.