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I remember this story breaking in the UK and being filled with horror at the ordeal described by Joanne Lees. I subsequently kept up to date with the developments right through to the trial. When some opinion started to turn against Joanne, I thought it was unfair and some of it truly ridiculous.
For example she was criticised for not attending press conferences and when she did for wearing a T-shirt with "cheeky monkey" written on it. In a subsequent interview she explained that she was too distressed to attend press conferences and that most of her clothes were in police custody with the camper van and she could hardly suggest a shopping trip. When it came out during her trial that she had an affair, I was incredulous that some people started to think motive as she is hardly the first unmarried 28 year old to stray and not many feel the need to murder their boyfriend rather that break up with them.
I was very relieved to hear that somebody had been caught and was pleased with the trial result, feeling that on the whole the conviction was safe. It still remains a fascinating and controversial case though and I am not entirely sure what prompted me to buy a book a few weeks ago, but perhaps I thought it would lay out the basis for the conviction to end any remaining niggling doubts about the safety of the conviction.
Well I picked the wrong book for that.
Clearly a lack of research on my part, but I unintentionally picked the book written by a journalist highly sceptical of Joanna's story and the conviction. Richard Shears was a reporter on the scene at the time and was one of the journalists who became highly frustrated at Joanne's determined effort to keep a low profile in the early days. I had never really seen the issue here before, who does want to face the world's press after all? But Shears makes the point, that people who have a loved one go missing almost without exception do want to face the world's press, their own inhibitions become secondary to the desire to bring as much attention to the case as possible. The Falconio family attended their first press conference almost as soon as they hit the soil in Australia. Well I had never seen it like that before, but perhaps he has a point?
He has a lot of other points to make as well and I definitely did not get the impression that the book was written by a journalist with a grudge because he didn't get that interview he wanted. And whilst he mentions that Joanne's behaviour seemed unusual to him, this is one of the smaller points he makes and is certainly not suggesting that because she did not attend press conferences or act the weeping victim in public that she had something to do with the mystery.
The book is 240 pages long and I read it over a couple of days as it is clearly written and does not baffle with science. Rather it includes a chronological description of events and some background information of the various people involved, which appears to have been researched reasonably well. Despite my interest in this case, I have never read much about Peter himself. Shears has done some research and spoken to people that knew the couple and makes some interesting and (possibly) relevant points about his personality.
The main purpose of the book is not to speculate on what might have happened but more to point out the flaws in the prosecution case and Shears does this very effectively. He points out the numerous problems with Joanne's story and exactly where it changed, gradually but significantly, between her original statements and her testimony. One such example being how a red dog somehow became a Dalmatian, possibly one of the most easily recognised dogs in the world, in the intervening years. During the trial, whenever she was questioned on something she said earlier that had now changed she was allowed to duck out by replying "I don't remember saying that".
Shears also points out problems with the crime scene evidence. The pool of blood was certainly Falconio's, however the volume was scientifically estimated and the blood loss was not nearly large enough to even cause a human to lose consciousness. Also there were no drag marks or drips from the pool of blood so how was the dead body moved. And why would the perpetrator even bother to move it? It was well publicised at the time that the Aborigines could find no evidence of any footprints other than Joanne's, they also asserted that there was no evidence of a person having spent any length of time in one spot and despite Joanne spending 6 hours hiding in a t-shirt on a bitterly cold night, she showed no signs of frostbite.
Joanne described her attacker as being of medium height with long hair, Murdoch is 6 foot 5 he had short hair and nobody that knew him could ever recall him having long hair. The only evidence that the prosecution did have was a speck of his DNA on Joanne's t-shirt. Shears does not provide a concrete alternative explanation for this, but he certainly does cast some doubts. Similarly he casts some doubts over the prosecution witnesses.
After reading this book, I would agree with the many that say there is something highly dodgy about the whole story. Although I am generally not a conspiracy theorist I do think there is a good chance that Peter is alive and well. Even if he is not, after reading the last few chapters of the book, which are focussed upon the trial and the evidence presented, it is almost impossible to comprehend how the jury could have been beyond reasonable doubt. Unfortunately, it seems there has been a huge miscarriage of justice.
I bought the book new from Amazon for about £7, of course I am sure it can be bought more cheaply second hand in the usual places!
I remember being morbidly fascinated when the story broke in July 2001 of two British backpackers being attacked in the Australian Outback as we had just returned from 9 months doing the same thing. This was a crime that tapped into your worst nightmare and sent a shiver down your spine thinking "there but for the grace of God....".
The fact that one survived (Joanne Lees) and one disappeared (and has still not been found - Peter Falconio) only added to the fascination. In 2005, Bradley Murdoch, a maverick loner who smuggled drugs inter state was arrested and subsequently found guilty of the murder of Peter Falconio and assault related charges on Joanne and is elligible for parole on 2032. A recent appeal was dismissed in Jan 07.
What was interesting about this story is that Murdoch always vehemently denied any involvement (not suprisingly you may say) whilst at the same time Joanne Lees was also cast as not being whiter than white in the press and even in court some of her evidence contradicted what was said in her police statement, including the fact that at the time of the attack she was involved in an affair with a fellow back-packer.
This therefore was the perfect set of ingredients for a whole raft of conspiracy theories.
Prior to reading this book I had read two other books about the same subject, namely And Then The Darkness by Sue Williams & Where's Peter? by Roger Maynard. Both these books were very good reads and simply quoted the facts of the case as well as the discrepancies and allowed the reader to make up their own mind. However, Bloodstain - The Vanishing of Peter Falconio promised to give an alternative view and present other angles and effectively to ask the reader whether or not there was enough reasonable doubt for the conviction.
The author acknowledges that his interest with this story gathered pace because of frustrations both he and the media in general were experiencing with Joanne Lees at the time of the attack. Joanne basically refused to speak to the press or make any kind of statements which fuelled press speculation and made them rush off to dig up some dirt. Joanne then did a paid TV interview with Martin Bashir when she had always said she would never do this further fuelling the fire. As a result the author has written this book with a critical eye at Joanne in terms of her motives and asking did she have any involvement on Peter's disappearance.
This book was written to promote controversy and therefore promote sales. The writer (a journalist) has clearly had a problem with Joanne Lees's story and has tried to stir up some dirt to give an alternative point of view (and this is not my view but fact given the writer went public with his views before the court case). However, whilst he comes up with many questions there are few answers in the book other than the ones presented in court.
He tries to bring reasonable doubt on this case but given the accused was found guilty based on three pieces of his DNA being found in three seperate places then this fails miserably (I am not spoiling the story here as the outcome of the case is public knowledge). To find a conspiracy theory amongst this case is stretching the readers imagination (and intelligence) just a little because if the accused didn't do it and it was a police set up then that means the authorities planted his DNA which was identified 3 days after the attack. In this case why did it take nearly a year to link this DNA to the accused. There would also have to be a significant number of people involved in this conspiracy also. In fact, it would be easier just to find and charge the correct person with the crime than it would be to cover this up so the conspiracy theory angle makes no sense whatsoever and no evidence is presented supporting a conspiracy theory other than theoretical situations.
The author has highlighted a number of inconsistencies in Joanna's story though but given what she undoubtedly went through then this is no surprise given she would have been scared witless, confused and highly stressed so it's no wonder she got some things confused (I would be more concerned if she had remembered everything 100%). The fact Joanne had an affair, was confused about how she ended up in the back of the van or the breed of dog that was there are hardly theories that point to a miscarriage of justice. They provide a juicy twist to the case and an angle for a journalist to write a book (and me to review it!) but nothing more.
Also, given Joanna refused to speak to the press at the time of the incident and afterwards (and also did a TV interview for money when she said she wouldn't) then the journalists may want to exact a little bit of revenge and this book is an alternative view of the case from a critical journalist.
However, I have still given this book 4/5 as it was a very enjoyable read and I would recommend this book to anyone interested in the case just to see an alternative view, albeit one that doesn't really hold any water.
Paperback: 224 pages
Publisher: New Holland Publishers Pty Ltd (AUS) (30 Jun 2005)
Product Dimensions: 22.8 x 14.8 x 2.2 cm
Amazon £4, Ebay couple of quid if you can find it and readitswapit.co.uk free if you can find it and the owner likes ones of your books!
Through numerous sources in the police force and local indigenous communities, Bloodstain is the most in-depth analysis of the Falconio trial. Richard Shears is the only journalist who has interviewed the parents of Brad Murdoch, the South Australian drug-runner acused of Falconio's murder. Before the trial Shears studied the crime scene with local aboriginal trackers and helped highlight the glaring contradictions in the court's evidence. He was also uniquely privy to police reports and witnesses' statements in the build up to the trial. Bloodstain reveals the changing testimony of key witnesses, Joanne Lees' secret affair before Falconio's disappearance, the mystery of the bloodstains and the conflicting evidence upon which the whole trial was based.