Body is not missing Briton, say Australian police

Police searching for British backpacker Peter Falconio in central Australia said today the body of a man found next to an Outback highway was not that of the missing man.

An autopsy performed overnight confirmed the body found south of the central city of Alice Springs, was not Mr Falconio, who went missing on July 14.

"The significant thing out of this inquiry to date is that it's not Peter Falconio," Northern Territory Assistant Commissioner John Daulby told Australian television's Nine network.

"We have identified (the body) although we can't release his name because we haven't found his next of kin. The cause of death is fatal stab wounds to the neck."

The body was found by local residents near the Stuart Highway, about 40 miles south of Alice Springs on Sunday afternoon.

Falconio, 28, has been missing and presumed dead since he and his girlfriend Joanne Lees were ambushed by a gunman on the Stuart Highway 190 miles north of Alice Springs more than three weeks ago.

Police yesterday released security images taken at a service station in Alice Springs showing a man who fits the description of the gunman, and of his white pickup truck.

The images were taken by a security video camera in the early hours of Sunday, July 15, police said in a statement.

The man's canvas-covered vehicle is shown parked in the truck area. The man is seen in the shop, where police said he bought ice and water.

Miss Lees, 27, from Almondbury, near Huddersfield, told police she was tied up and gagged but managed to struggle free and escape into the bush.

She said she hid for six hours while the attacker searched for her with his dog.

She said she heard a gunshot and police have been working on the theory that the hijacker murdered Mr Falconio, then dumped his body.

Police mounted a huge land and air search of the Outback after Mr Falconio disappeared.

But despite repeated appeals for information and the circulation of various e-fit descriptions, police have so far discovered nothing.

A breakthrough came last week when it emerged that scientific experts had found the DNA of a man which did not belong to Mr Falconio on Miss Lees's clothing.

The "small, but significant" development meant officers could check the sample with international police DNA data banks.

The breakthrough followed attacks by some sections of the media on Miss Lees's version of events.

Reports questioned why only Miss Lees's footprints were found at the scene and how she managed to free her arms.

But Mr Falconio's mother, Joan, defended the young tourist's story saying: "Basically Joanne told the truth about what's happened and that's that.

"I know the girl so well - she's been going out with Peter for six years. She's like a daughter to me. They're devoted to each other."

A Foreign Office spokeswoman said Mr Falconio's family was being kept informed of developments.

A spokesman for Northern Territory police said it was hoped the video footage could provide a breakthrough in the hunt for Mr Falconio's attacker.

"The film has come from the security tapes of a truck stop on the north side of Alice Springs and was taken a few hours after the abduction.

"We have been aware of the footage for some time but when we first got it, the tape's quality wasn't very good and we had to send it away to be enhanced.

"It shows a man who seems to match the description of the suspect wanted in connection with Mr Falconio's disappearance.

"We need to know who this man is and we hope somebody will recognise him from the footage. It could be that the man is wholly unconnected to the abduction - but equally it could provide the breakthrough this investigation needs."

No comments have so far been submitted. Why not be the first to send us your thoughts, or debate this issue live on our message boards.

We are no longer accepting comments on this article.

Who is this week's top commenter? Find out now