`Scum' charge levelled at Sydney murder suspect

There was a tense moment in Australia's backpacker murder trial yesterday when a friend of two British women described the man accused of killing them and five other hitch-hikers as "scum".

Pauline Vuletich had just given evidence in the New South Wales Supreme Court about her friendship with Joanne Walters and Caroline Clarke, both 22, whose bodies were found in the Belanglo State Forest south of Sydney in September 1992, five months after they disappeared. Ms Walters had suffered multiple stab wounds and Ms Clarke had been shot 10 times in the head.

Ivan Milat, a 51-year-old road worker, has pleaded not guilty to charges of murdering the Britons, three Germans and two Australians. He has also denied a charge of kidnapping Paul Onions, another British tourist, who identified Mr Milat in court three weeks ago as the man who abducted him and threatened him with a revolver on the road near the forest in January 1990.

As Mrs Vuletich left the witness box she walked past Mr Milat in the dock. She turnedtowards him and said "scum". He did not respond.

Mrs Vuletich told the jury of eight men and four women how she had met Ms Walters while travelling in Greece in 1990, before Mrs Vuletich married. They became friends and travelled to Australia together the following year. On the night of Good Friday 1992, Mrs Vuletich visited Ms Walters at her Sydney flat where Ms Walters and Ms Clarke told her of their plans to hitch-hike to Western Australia in search fruit-picking jobs.

"It was the last time I saw Joanne," Mrs Vuletich said. The two women disappeared after setting out from Sydney together the next day.

Earlier, Gillian Walters, Joanne's mother, was overcome with emotion and unable to give evidence. Choking back sobs as she entered the witness stand, Mrs Walters nodded as Mr Justice David Hunt, the trial judge, asked her if she would prefer to be excused.

Ray Walters, Joanne's father, said their daughter had left their home in south Wales for a travelling holiday with Mrs Vuletich (then Reid) in Australia in May 1991. "She rang us every two weeks from Australia," he said. "She wouldn't go anywhere or change addresses without letting us know." The telephone calls stopped on the Wednesday before Easter 1992.

Caroline Clarke's parents, Ian and Jacqueline Clarke, of Hexham, Northumberland also gave evidence yesterday about their last contact with their daughter.

The trial continues.