New woman helping Joanne Lees deal with nightmare past

JOANNE Lees has revealed she was faced with a terrifying choice to "either run or be raped and killed" by the same man jailed for murdering her boyfriend Peter Falconio.

The deranged gunman, Bradley John Murdoch, was found guilty over the British backpacker's desert death in a remote part of the Northern Territory's Stuart Highway on July 14, 2001.

But survivor Lees, who was travelling with her partner on the night of the attack, has told 60 Minutes Liz Hayes "she never wanted to come back to Australia again...never wanted to hear an Australian accent" after the trauma.

Falconio's body has never been found, a fact which has plagued Lees and prompted her to face her fears and return to the scene of the crime, on a new mission to find him - and peace.

Hayes told News Corp Australia "Joanne was like the English version of Lindy Chamberlain," even after Murdoch was charged and convicted over Falconio's killing.

"There were people on the police force who didn't believe her and that made her upset. She has been formally diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome (PTSD). She can't sleep at night until she feels she has done everything she can to try and find Peter's body.

"If she is ever going to move forward she has got to do it now. She has not remarried. She has not had children. Her life has stalled."

The program reveals a new woman in Lees' life has provided a glimmer of hope, with Hayes tight-lipped about the nature of the relationship.

"It is just new. It is something that has happened in the last 12 months," Hayes explained.

"It is not a guy. It has changed her life in a good way. She hadn't expected it.

"I would like to think that she really could find love and really could find the ability to move on because I think Peter would want her to."

In the special investigation, Lees calls police suspicion about the truth of her story "a stab to the heart".

Lees and Hayes with a local indigenous lady.
Lees and Hayes with a local indigenous lady. Supplied

"We were just young and carefree," Lees said.

"We had no idea what was going to happen. We thought we had the rest or our lives together. Who would expect…a gunman? Horror movies have been made of the events that happened to me."

Hayes had never met Lees before filming this one-hour episode.

"I didn't know what to expect from her.When I first met her she was definitely very suspicious of me and of all media.

She was very distrusting. In her mind there is no such thing as a good journalist. I had no doubt in my mind that this is a woman who has suffered a terrible crime. She is without doubt the victim of a horrendous attack and lucky to be alive. I came away appalled by the suspicion that she was treated with. I can't imagine what that was like. Think about it - you've been attacked, you've almost died, your partner's been murdered and not only do people not believe that but they think you're some part of it.

Hayes said: "I was devastated when she said to me 'I wish I'd died out there because living has been sheer hell.'

During 60 Minutes filming in December, a French tourist, Philippe Jegouzo, was stabbed to death in outback Northern Territory.

"We'd been in exactly the same place only four hours before," Hayes says.

"It was pretty appalling timing for her. The whole place has horrific memories. She's still highly traumatised. But I do think there have been some very big positives that have come from [filming].

"She's capable of laughter and smiling and there is a light and funny side to her and she is quite easy to be with," Hayes revealed.

"It has been a good thing for her to come back and I am pleased I can say that. There would be nothing worse than her deciding she needed to do this and go "that was still the worst thing I could have ever done."

* 60 Minutes airs 8.30pm, Sunday on Channel 9.

News Corp Australia

South Grafton house damaged in fire

South Grafton house damaged in fire

Emergency services respond to two fires this morning

NAPLAN 2017: Find out how your school performed

NAPLAN 2017: Find out how your school performed

Full list of data from each Clarence Valley school

‘Dumb f**ks’: The words coming back to bite Mark Zuckerberg

‘Dumb f**ks’: The words coming back to bite Mark Zuckerberg

‘Dumb f**ks’: The two words coming back to bite Mark Zuckerberg

Local Partners