Briton relives kidnap ordeal

A Briton told the backpacker murders trial yesterday how he fled for his life from the man who now stands accused of being a serial killer.

In the New South Wales Supreme Court Ivan Milat, 51, pleads not guilty to murdering two British women - Joanne Walters and Caroline Clarke, both 22 - two Australian teenagers and three young Germans. They all disappeared while hitch-hiking near Sydney between December 1989 and April 1992. Their mutilated bodies were later found in the Belanglo State Forest south of Sydney. Most of the backpackers had been stabbed to death, while Ms Clarke and one of the Germans had been shot repeatedly in the head.

Mr Milat also denies abducting Paul Onions, the Briton in the witness box yesterday, when Mr Onions was visiting Australia in 1990. Mr Onions, 30, a testing engineer from Willenhall, West Midlands, has been under police protection since he arrived in Australia last Friday to give evidence.

The jury of eight men and four women heard Mr Onions describe how he left Sydney on 25 January 1990 to hitch-hike along the Hume Highway towards Melbourne. Mr Onions said that a man had offered him a lift as far as Canberra. "As we drove along, his attitude changed and he wasn't too friendly. He talked about all the ethnic people in Australia and the British in Northern Ireland, and how we shouldn't be there. The conversation got a bit anti. I got a bit nervous."

After half an hour, the driver stopped the four-wheel drive vehicle under the pretence of searching for cassette tapes under the seat. Instead, he produced a rifle. "The gun was pointed straight at me," Mr Onions said. "I could feel my voice shaking. I couldn't believe it. I said, 'Calm down'."

As he fled along the highway, he said, he heard the gun go off. "I started dodging the best I could." The man chased him and caught him. "I thought, 'This was my last chance. I've got to get away'." He struggled free, stood in front of an on-coming van and jumped in. The driver took him to the police station in the town of Bowral.

Mr Onions returned to Britain, but went back to Australia in May 1994 to assist police after the backpacker serial killings came to light. In court yesterday, a video was played showing 13 photographs of men which police showed to Mr Onions in 1994. He identified yesterday, as he did then, the fourth picture as that of the man who attacked him. When Mark Tedeschi QC, the state prosecutor, asked Mr Onions if he could see that man in court, Mr Onions pointed to Mr Milat, sitting in the dock about three metres to his right, and said: "That's him there."

The trial continues.