New twist in Peter Falconio case: ‘He didn’t do it’
The stepfather of British tourist Joanne Lees, whose boyfriend Peter Falconio was murdered in the Australian outback, believes killer Bradley John Murdoch is innocent.
In a sensational about face, Vincent James, who visited Australia after his stepdaughter was kidnapped by Murdoch, told News Corp that he had changed his mind on his guilt.
The Falconio case has gripped the world, spawning movies, television shows, documentaries and countless reports across the world.
Mr Falconio and Ms Lees were backpacking in 2001 when they were pulled over at the side of the road outside Barrow Creek in central Australia.
Bradley John Murdoch, a truck driver, was found guilty of the murder in 2005.
The jury accepted that he shot Mr Falconio, 28, at the back of their orange Kombi van when he had pulled them over telling them there was a problem with the vehicle.
But Mr James, who still lives in Huddersfield, Yorkshire, where Lees and Falconio grew up, said he now had his doubts.
"I'm convinced Bradley Murdoch is innocent, I didn't at the time but I do now," he told the News Corp at his home this week.
He said he had changed his mind after watching a four-part documentary on British television in June.
The program, which interviewed disgraced lawyer Andrew Fraser, raised questions about Murdoch's case, despite a Northern Territory court sentencing him to life in jail, with a minimum of 28 years.
The killer's earliest release date is 2032, however the Northern Territory passed 'no body, no parole' law in 2016, targeted at Murdoch in the hope he would finally provide details of where to find Mr Falconio's remains.
"I watched the program and all the forensic evidence it would appear that he's not guilty," Mr James said.
"At the time when I was there I thought he was guilty but now I don't."
Mr James said he travelled to Australia for a week in 2001 when details of the case emerged after Lees, whose hands were bound, managed to escape from Murdoch, who is now 62, and hid for five hours in saltbush on the side of the road.
She became a Lindy Chamberlain-like figure, after she spoke to the media when she was still in shock, with some commentators unfairly claiming that she may have been involved in the crime.
Ms Lees was wearing a pink singlet during a press conference after the murder which said "cheeky monkey".
She was paid $90,000 (50,000GBP) for an interview with Martin Bashir, who came to prominence for his interview the late Princess Diana, on British television in 2002, when interest in the case was at its height.
Ms Lees, now 46, was cleared of any involvement and Murdoch was charged sixteen months later after his DNA was found on the clothes that Lees had been wearing.
Murdoch had previous convictions for causing death by dangerous driving offences and weapons offences, and he was charged, but acquitted of rape in 2003.
He was unanimously convicted of Falconio's murder in 2005 and unsuccessfully appealed in 2013.
Colleen Gwynne, now the Northern Territory's Children's Commissioner, was the investigating police officer on the case.
Murdoch went on the run when he became a suspect in the case but was later arrested in South Australia.
The DNA from Ms Lees' clothes linked him to the crime, but a hair tie belonging to her was considered the key to securing his conviction.
Ms Lees still has a terraced home in Huddersfield on a narrow laneway overlooking a park.
But neighbours said that she had not been seen there since at least May, a month before the documentary aired in the UK.
And before then she was only seen occasionally, rarely answering the door.
The well maintained property was where she was photographed on the 15th anniversary of Falconio's murder, where it was revealed she was working as a social worker in the area.
She had never married and was living an isolated life, according to reports, although she still kept in contact with Mr Falconio's parents.
However in 2017, she told 60 Minutes she had planned to move to Australia after finding her long lost sister Jessica McMillan.
Ms McMillan, a New Zealand teacher, was the child of Ms Lees' father who moved to Australia when his relationship with her mother Jenny had ended.
Jenny Lees died in 2002, aged 54, of an auto-immune disease.
Ms Lees had become close to her new family and had begun using the last name of McMillan.
One of her cousins in Queensland had also shared a message on Twitter welcoming her to the family.
Ms Lees wrote a book in 2006 titled No Turning Back, where she detailed the shocking crime, including how Murdoch had passed her three times when she was hiding in the saltbush before driving off to dispose of Falconio's body.
British company documents show that she set up a business in February 2006.
The company, which had listed Ms Lees as a writer, was dissolved in 2014 when it had approximately $25,000 in cash.
Judith Rollinson, of Huddersfield, was listed on the paperwork as the secretary for Joanne Lees Ltd.
This week she said at her home that Ms Lees was "fine" but that she did not want to comment further.
Mr Falconio's parents still live in Huddersfield and have been campaigning for decades to find his body.
His father Luciano declined to comment this week, but his mother Joan told The Sun newspaper in February that she was encouraged by plans to search a well in the Northern Territory, which had been identified as a site where his remains might be buried.
"We're aware of this area and it has been searched before but we didn't know there was a renewed interest in the site. It is encouraging and very welcoming," she said.
"We hope he will finally be found one day. We're doing all right, we're okay as a family.
"We're still in contact with Joanne, we get on, we still see her but our conversations remain private."
The Falconio's well kept home in Huddersfield was on top of a hill in a picturesque village, about an hour east of Manchester.
It is a long way from the dusty Australian outback where their son was murdered when he was on the trip of a lifetime.
Originally published as New twist in Peter Falconio case: 'He didn't do it'