A RURAL service station owner and staff may have saved the life of a young British backpacker who was allegedly raped, choked and beaten for months after a road trip went terrifyingly awry.
Beverley Page runs the Caltex service station in Mitchell, the last place where the female traveller and her alleged captor stopped before she was discovered by police and a man charged with a suite of crimes.
The backpacker was repeatedly raped, beaten and held against her will for two months as she was driven 1500km through the outback, police allege.
Ms Page told the Courier-Mail the backpacker "was crying and shaking" when she came in to pay for fuel.
"She pulled up and fuelled up and then when she came in, she couldn't pay for her fuel," Ms Page said.
"When she was in the shop, she was crying and shaking the whole time - she was really upset.
"There were two marks on her neck, along with the black eyes."
Ms Page said the woman left then returned, saying she had contacted her ex-boyfriend.
"I said, 'Is he the same one that has given you those black eyes?' " Ms Page said.
"And she said yes, so then I told her that we could ring the police for her."
The young woman declined, but when she drove off without paying, Ms Page followed then reported what had happened to an officer parked up the street.
When police acted and pulled over the 4WD on the Warrego Hwy, the woman took the opportunity to tell the officers of her ordeal. A man was found hidden in the back of the four-wheel-drive. He told police he had been asleep.
The woman had serious facial injuries and was extremely distressed.
Earlier this week, the man was charged with with four counts of rape, eight counts of assault, four counts of strangulation and two of deprivation of liberty.
Backpacker horror: How the 1000km ordeal unfolded
THE hellish journey taken by a young female British backpacker, which allegedly involved her being repeatedly raped, choked and beaten, spanned two months and almost 1000km.
Western Star News can reveal that police believe the 22-year-old woman was in the four-wheel-drive as it stopped in Gordenvale in Far North Queensland, then again in Bowen before her 22-year-old captor drove south-west towards the Maranoa region, where he would ultimately be caught by police.
An officer pulled over the vehicle as part of a routine traffic stop.
South-west Detective Inspector Paul Hart said it is alleged that victim was made to drive around the state, stopping in at Gordonvale, Bowen, Central Queensland before heading to the Maranoa.
"After police conducted a search of the vehicle it appeared evident that they had been living in the SUV for the past couple of weeks," he said.
The man is believed to be from New South Wales but was living in Manunda in Cairns at the time.
The woman has been examined in hospital for injuries.
Det. Insp. Hart said they were consistent with her versions of events.
A service station worker on the Warrego Hwy, near Mitchell, reported a fuel drive off to police, triggering a patrol vehicle to keep watch for the white Pajero 4WD headed west towards Charleville where it is believe the man had a job lined up in the sleepy western town.
Det. Insp. Hart said the woman "seized the opportunity" to tell officers of her ordeal when the vehicle pulled over, and indicated her alleged captor was in the back of the vehicle.
"He was found hidden in the back," Det. Insp. Hart said.
"His version if that he was asleep amongst everything in there."
Det. Insp. Hart said the investigation would be ongoing, including where the couple had travelled to from Cairns to Mitchell, and how they initially met.
"We're still piecing it all together but we do know that they were known to each other for a couple of months and had had some sort of relationship at the start," he said.
"We have established from him, from what he has told us, is that he had work lined up in Charleville.
"As yet we have been unable to confirm that."
The ongoing investigation will also probe whether the man was fleeing from the North Queensland area.
Det. Insp. Hart said the woman remained in hospital undergoing treatment, and additional statements would be taken from her in coming days.
He said the woman was in the country legally and still had time on her visa but had indicated to police she would remain in the country to see the matter through the legal process if possible.
Her passport had been destroyed "at some point", he said.
"Early indication is that she wishes to pursue the charges," Det. Insp. Hart said.
"She can do that, under a Criminal Justice visa, and we are very mindful of that.
"We have made sure she has the appropriate support with her.
"We believe at some point her passport was disposed of so there needs to be support with that."
Det. Insp. Hart commended the work of the officers and said the circumstances around the woman's ordeal and survival, to how it was discovered, were extraordinary.
"For a job that was an innocuous call out to end up with the significant arrest and potentially save a life is remarkable," he said.
"It's an investigation that is ongoing and is going to involve police right up and down the coast.
"It is excellent police work."
The woman had serious facial injuries and was extremely distressed when the vehicle was pulled over on the Warrego Highway outside Mitchell on Sunday.
After seeing the woman, police soon found her alleged attacker, a 22-year-old man, hiding in the back of the vehicle.
The man faced a court in Roma charged with four counts of rape, eight counts of assault, four counts of strangulation and two of deprivation of liberty that allegedly occurred from January 2 to March 5.
He also faced drug charges.
Police are still investigating.
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