Falconio case: Meet the new woman in Joanne Lees' life
JOANNE Lees, whose boyfriend Peter Falconio was murdered in the Northern Territory, has revealed a new woman in her life has made her want to have Australian citizenship.
Lees told Channel 9's 60 Minutes that she only discovered last year that her estranged father, who was an Australian, had a daughter from a different relationship.
Lees had believed she was an only child, brought up by her mother alone in Huddersfield, Yorkshire. Now she realised that she had a sister Jess, who lived in Sydney.
"It has been really amazing and kind of emotional," Lees said.
"It's almost like a mirror (the resemblance). We saw each other and it was just instant. It was amazing."
Lees also revealed that she was applying for Australian citizenship and wanted to spend a lot more time in Australia.
"It's so neat when someone says 'oh you can tell you're sisters' - to us the novelty definitely hasn't worn off we're still in celebration mode of finding each other," Lees said.
Jess said she had no idea that Joanne was her sister and did not know about the death of her boyfriend Falconio.
She was travelling overseas when Lee and Falconio were travelling in a Kombi van towards Darwin when they were flagged down by Bradley John Murdoch on July 14, 2001.
"I feel less alone in the world. When wonderful things happen in the world I want to share them with Jess,' Lees said. "It is kind of mind-blowing."
Lees 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.
The deranged gunman, Murdoch, was found guilty over the British backpacker's desert death in a remote part of the Northern Territory's Stuart Highway.
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."
Lees calls police suspicion about the truth of her story "a stab to the heart".
"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."
Reporter Liz 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," she said.
"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.
"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."