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Backpacker murders: police hunt second killer

Australian police are likely to reopen their investigation into the deaths of two British women, Caroline Clarke and Joanne Walters, and five other young hitchhikers, following a judge's finding that Ivan Milat, the man convicted of the "backpacker murders", probably had an accomplice.

A Sydney jury on Saturday found Milat, a 51 year-old road worker, guilty of the seven murders and of kidnapping Paul Onions, another British backpacker, who escaped after Milat pulled a gun on him in January 1990. Before sentencing Milat to seven life prison sentences for the murders, and another six years for the kidnapping, Mr Justice David Hunt said: "I agree entirely with those verdicts. Any other, in my view, would have flown in the face of reality."

The judge added: "The jury's verdicts mean that the prisoner was involved, either alone or in company, in a criminal enterprise to pick up [the backpackers] and then to murder them all. In my view, it is inevitable that the prisoner was not alone in that criminal enterprise."

Ian Lloyd, the Sydney QC who advised police in 1994 that there was enough evidence to charge Milat, said yesterday that Milat's conviction did not mean necessarily that the case was closed. Police investigators added that, in the light of evidence revealed during the four-month trial, their inquiries would continue and that others could be charged.

Those inquiries would almost certainly embrace the Milat family. Terry Martin, Milat's barrister, put forward a defence at the trial based on mistaken identity. He conceded that the serial killer probably came from the Milat family, but that it was more likely to be one of Ivan's younger brothers, Richard, 40, or Walter, 44, acting alone or together. Both denied any involvement.

Ivan Milat, the man who perpetrated Australia's most sensational and gruesome serial killings, was being branded yesterday the "Beast of Belanglo", after the Belanglo State Forest, south of Sydney, where he murdered the British, German and Australian backpackers after picking them up on the Hume Highway between December 1989 and April 1992.

Ivan Milat is the fifth oldest in a family of 14. His father was a Yugoslav immigrant. He and his brothers, Richard and Walter, are gun-lovers. When police raided their homes and arrested Ivan in May 1994, they found crates of ammunition and guns. At his house they found the bolt of a rifle that had been used to shoot Ms Clarke, as well as her camera and a rope with her blood on it.

Milat's trial almost came unstuck a week before the jury of seven men and four women delivered their verdict. On 19 July, the 12th juror was stood down after he received a death threat which the judge kept secret until after the verdict. According to Mr Justice Hunt, the juror received a telephone call at home, in which a man said: "If you find ... him guilty, you're dead."

Last night, the juror appeared on television, his face and voice distorted. Asked if he believed the threat came from one of Milat's brothers, whom he saw in the witness box, he replied: "The voice, it could be."