Australia

UK backpacker 'raped repeatedly' over two months in Australia

The suspect's vehicle Image copyright APN Western Star via AP
Image caption Police officers found the suspect in the back of the vehicle

A UK backpacker was raped, assaulted and choked during a two-month hostage ordeal in Australia, police have said.

The 22-year-old woman was on a road trip across the Queensland outback with an ex-boyfriend, officers said.

On Sunday, police stopped a vehicle being driven by the woman, after she had failed to pay for petrol, and saw she had face injuries.

An Australian man who appeared to be hiding in the back of the vehicle was arrested, police said.

A 22-year-old man, from Cairns, has been charged with a string of offences, including four counts of rape, eight counts of assault and four counts of strangulation.

Detective Inspector Paul Hart told reporters that the woman had gone through a "horrific and terrifying" experience, and that officers "potentially saved this young girl's life".

Damaged passport

The unnamed British woman was a tourist who had been in Australia since 2015, he said. She had not been reported as missing.

She and the suspect are said to have met three months ago at a party in Cairns, in Far North Queensland, and began a relationship before agreeing to go on a road trip.

"At some point that [relationship] had soured" and the woman was held against her will, police said.

The man subsequently damaged and invalidated her passport, possibly to prevent her escape, Queensland Police said.

It is alleged she was repeatedly attacked between 2 January and 5 March.

Police said the woman had appeared distressed when their 4x4 was pulled over on a routine stop on the Warrego Highway at Mitchell, which is about 1,000km (620 miles) south of Cairns.

Reports said she had driven off without paying for petrol at a service station, prompting staff to alert a nearby police patrol.

The petrol station owner, known only as Donna, said the woman had been "almost zombie-like" when she walked in to say she couldn't pay for the fuel.

"Tears were running down her face. But what struck me were her black eyes. She looked bad," she told the Daily Mail.

"I asked her if her black eyes were due to her ex-boyfriend and she nodded - I was very concerned about her."

The police car had chased their vehicle, forcing it to pull over, said Mr Hart.

'Great courage'

The victim told officers that the man was hiding in the back. Officers found him under a pile of clothes, he added.

Police said the victim was being treated for facial fractures, bruising, abrasions to her neck and cuts to her body.

Mr Hart said the "very prolonged" ordeal had left her with psychological injuries.

"What's happened to this lady is quite catastrophic so there are numerous supports that are being put in place to help her out."

Image copyright Queensland Police
Image caption Detective Inspector Paul Hart speaks to reporters on Tuesday

Since Sunday, the woman had made contact with family in the UK and friends in Australia.

"It has taken great courage for our victim in this instance to provide the detail she has," Mr Hart said.

He said the woman would require a new passport because her existing one had been damaged.

A UK Foreign Office spokesman said: "We are supporting a British woman following an incident in Queensland, and remain in contact with the local authorities."

Refused bail

The suspect has also been charged with two counts of deprivation of liberty, causing wilful damage, possessing drugs and drug equipment, and obstructing police.

He faced the Roma Magistrates Court, about 80km from Mitchell, on Monday.

The man was refused bail and will go before the courts again on 23 May, according to Brisbane's Courier Mail.

Police have urged anyone with information to come forward.

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