I stand at the spot near Barrow Creek where Peter Falconio disappeared

I stand at the spot near Barrow Creek where Peter Falconio disappeared 10 Years ago.

Ten years after British backpacker Peter Falconio vanished on a dark night in the Australian outback, the man convicted of his murder has challenged the police  to ‘show me his body’.

As the mystery remains about what happened to Mr Falconio after his girlfriend Joanne Lees claimed she heard a gunshot at the rear of their Volkswagen campervan, Bradley Murdoch continues to insist he did not kill the 28-year-old Briton at that lonely spot at Barrow Creek.

Miss Lees, then 27, and Mr Falconio were travelling through the outback, heading north from Alice Springs towards Darwin on the night of July 14, 2001, when she claims a stranger in a white four-wheel drive tricked them into stopping, with the pretence that something was wrong with the exhaust of their Volkswagen campervan.

After Mr Falconio got out to inspect the rear, she heard the two men talking, then heard what she believed was a shot. The stranger then tossed her into his vehicle after a fierce struggle but she said she managed to escape through the rear and hide in nearby bushes.

Murdoch, prisoner number 257128, shudders in an icy winter wind sweeping in from the surrounding desert as we sit in an outdoor visiting area in the Alice Springs Correctional Centre and claims that it is these very same conditions that made it impossible for him to have murdered and buried Mr Falconio.

‘The police say that after I shot him I must have buried his body – but the ground is so hard out there at this time of the year that you’d need a mechanical digger to bury someone so well that they can’t be found. And there was a time frame against me, making such a thing impossible.

‘The police have had all the time in the world to find Falconio – 10 long years to search while I, according to their case had just hours to hide him.. They haven’t found him. Yet they’ve convicted me of murdering him.’

In an extraordinary chat with me, the tall 52-year-old former drug courier who is serving life imprisonment with a minimum non-parole period of 28 years, revealed he still held out hope of freedom, despite losing all his appeals. Speaking at length for the first time since his conviction, he disclosed that legal and forensic experts from around the world were working on the evidence and discrepancies in the prosecution case and ‘there remains a good chance for me yet. I can only repeat to you that I didn’t kill Peter Falconio because I wasn’t there at Barrow Creek.’

Two other people with an intriguing role in the affair have also added to the mystery of Falconio’s whereabouts – if his remains are not lying in the desert somewhere. Melissa Kendall, 32, insists that she and her partner, 33-year-old Robbie Brown, served a man fitting Peter Falconio’s description at a petrol station in the outback town of Bourke a week after what has become known as the Incident at Barrow Creek.

‘Robbie and I have had since 2001 to think about all this,’ she said, ‘and not a day goes by without us remaining convinced that the man we served was Peter Falconio. His picture was in the Sunday paper that very same day and we were both left shaken to see him walk into the store and buy some chocolate.’

The mystifying ongoing Peter Falconio case has intrigued lawyers, scientists, police officers and armchair detectives around the world. For based on forensic evidence presented at Murdoch’s trial in Darwin in 2005 – his DNA was said to have been found on Miss Lees’ T-shirt and in the campervan – he was the man responsible for the murder of Mr Falconio, from Huddersfield.

But according to discrepancies in the events as described by Miss Lees, the Australian could not have been there – her description of her attacker did not match Murdoch, his dalmation dog or his vehicle. And several police officers had serious doubts about her account of the attack on that bitterly cold night with the temperature hovering around zero.

Added to the intrigue was the revelation during Murdoch’s trial that Miss Lees had been having an affair with an Irishman called Nick Riley, whom she had met each Friday night for sex in Sydney before setting off for her outback travels with long-time boyfriend Mr Falconio. She was forced to reluctantly admit in court that she had even written to Riley just days after Mr Falconio’s disappearance suggesting they meet up in Berlin.

‘You put her entire story together and there’s only one conclusion – it doesn’t add up and you can’t have a case that doesn’t add up and then convict a man of murder without even a body,’ says Murdoch as he sits at the table, decorated with an Aboriginal motif, in the visitor’s area of the prison. His short-cropped once-sandy-coloured hair has turned grey and his face is deeply lined. Under the cuffs of his blue sweater are traces of the tattoos that run up his arms. His two front teeth are missing – a startling feature that Miss Lees did not mention when she described her attacker to police.

‘Joanne claims that after I shot Falconio I dragged her into my vehicle and that while I was looking at ways to get rid of the body she managed to clamber into the back of the vehicle and escape through the rear,’ he says. ‘Well everybody who knew me knows my cab was sealed – you can’t get into the back that way. In fact the police admitted they had found only a couple of vehicles in the whole of Australia that had access from front to back.

‘And then, when she was challenged on this in court she said she might have been mistaken and that I had pushed her in through the canvas sides. She was wrong about that, too, because underneath the canvas I had a steel mesh. She talked about hiding in bushes while I came looking for her with my dog, but believe me if it was me there my dog would have found her.

‘And how come the police and the Aboriginal trackers found traces of her footprints in the bush but no traces of anyone else’s? Yet I was supposed to have been looking for her for hours.’

Murdoch remains calm as he goes over what he says are the numerous discrepancies – he has had nearly six years since his sentencing to go over the claims against him and his anger has subsided. ‘But I still wonder how they could have possibly thought that after claiming I had shot Falconio – and there was no gunshot residue on the back of their van – I drove off with the body, leaving a witness, Joanne, hiding in the bushes.

‘Why on earth would I have decided to drive all the way back to Alice Springs – what, 300kms – to buy fuel, as the police claimed, with a body in the vehicle? How was I to have known that Joanne hadn’t raised the alarm before I even got there and that police had already set up road blocks?

‘It’s another aspect of the case against me that doesn’t make sense and neither does the fact that not only did they not find any trace of a body being picked up or dragged into another vehicle at the scene – they haven’t even found the body.’

Northern Territory Police say that there are no active searches for Mr Falconio’s body, but if they received credible information it would be investigated. Murdoch holds out hopes that the DNA evidence used against him will eventually lead to his freedom.

Referring to the speck of DNA said to be his on Miss Lees’ T-shirt, the convicted murderer says that if it was he who had dragged her from the VW and thrown her to the ground to restrain her, his DNA would be all over her – and it wasn’t. He also says that traces of his DNA said to have been found by British forensic scientist Dr Jonathan Whitaker using a controversial technique called low copy numbers should not have even been allowed in his trial.

‘The FBI refuses to use this very same technique because it’s unreliable and when it was used against Sean Hoey who was charged with the Omagh bombing in Ireland in 1998 the case collapsed after the judge criticised Dr Whitaker’s evidence.

‘Yet this technique was used against me when Dr Whitaker said he found traces of my DNA in the VW because I had presumably driven the vehicle into the bush to hide if from passing traffic.

‘The holes in the case against me are huge but one day I hope it will all turn around. None of us knows where this business is going to turn next.’

Nearly 800 miles away Melissa Kendall says the day the man she insists was Peter Falconio walked into the petrol station in the remote outback town of Bourke where she was working with Robbie Brown will remain imprinted on her mind.

‘The police made a mockery of us, one detective saying he hadn’t seen Elvis yet, either, after we reported seeing Peter Falconio – because that’s how I’ll always refer to the man.’

The Falconio affair is replete with red herrings and alternative scenarios but Miss Kendall’s ‘sighting’ of Falconio fits in with rumours that Mr Falconio faked his own death because he had money troubles at home – and never expected his disappearance to make international headlines. But they are rumours, whispers, guesses, and Mr Falconio’s family and Miss Lees have often pleaded for them to stop.

Murdoch’s lawyer, Grant Algie, raised the possibility of the ‘fake death’ scenario when he said at Murdoch’s trial that the British couple had stopped by the side of the road near Barrow Creek to meet a third man who, it had been arranged, would take Peter away alive.

‘When the man I say was Peter Falconio walked into the petrol station, he was with two other people who behaved really strangely,’ recalls Miss Kendall. ‘He didn’t say much, but I think he had an accent, which might or might not have been English. I was just stunned at seeing this man whose face I had been looking at in the paper just a short time before.

‘The people he was with – a man and a woman – were in an open-back truck which they parked out of sight of the office part of the petrol station and they had to stretch the fuel hose right out to make it reach. It was as if they didn’t want us to see the vehicle.

‘But Robbie and I both went out, very carefully, to look at them all. The other man who was with “Peter Falconio” matched the photo-fit pictures the police had put out in the hunt for the man who carried out the attack at Barrow Creek.

‘It was really weird and rather frightening. “Peter Falconio” had a bit of an injury to the left side of his mouth, like a scab, just below the corner of his mouth. When they drove off, they didn’t drive out into the main road. They went up a back lane which led off in the direction of Brisbane.

‘Nothing will convince me that the man I saw wasn’t Peter Falconio. It was him all right and Robbie and I will continue to swear it for the rest of our lives.’

Today Miss Lees lives in a house she has bought in the north of England. She has declined to comment in any detail about the incident, adding that she and the Falconio family would prefer to remain out of the spotlight now that 10 years have passed.

At Barrow Creek today there is no longer any sign of the patch of blood on the road which forensic scientists said matched Peter Falconio’s – despite one analyst claiming it was mixed with animal blood.  It has long since been erased by thousands of tourist vehicles and the single complete footprint that police said matched Miss Lees’ in the sandy surface near the road has eroded with the weather.

But hawks circle overhead, looking for animal prey – dead or alive. And Aborigine trackers – first called to the scene in the hours after Miss Lees’ raised the alarm by waving down a passing truck in the dead of night – said if there had been a body or a wounded man lying in the bush at the time, the birds of prey would have hovered over it.

But they saw no hawks. Cadaver dogs found no body.

Peter Falconio had disappeared, leaving behind a mystery that has endured for 10 years.