Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Fugitive hid in 'bush' for seven years

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BRISBANE -- Australians are notoriously talented at evading police capture, but when a man has been on the run for seven years, even a nation founded by criminals sits up and takes notice.

On Thursday morning, Malcolm Naden, who had topped Australia's Most Wanted list since 2005, was finally cornered by police in New South Wales bushland.

Naden's name is almost always prefaced by "bush fugitive,'' and it's a sobriquet richly observed by the 38-year-old who has been hiding in the scrub for much of the past decade.

Only last Sunday, the national current affairs show 60 Minutes devoted a segment to Naden, whom police wanted to "talk to'' about the strangulation death of his cousin, Kristy Scholes, and the disappearance of another relative, Lateesha Nolan.

But Naden has shown a marked reluctance to have that discussion. Seven years ago, he disappeared from his grandparents' home in Dubbo, in rural New South Wales, and ever since it's been a case of "they seek him here, they seek him there.''

The problem for an increasingly embarrassed New South Wales police was not that they didn't know where he was -- they did.

Naden's location was at times narrowed down to a few square kilometres of bushland around a place called Nowendoc.

But such was the denseness of bushland, and such was the skill of Naden's bushcraft, he remained the original "will o' the wisp.''

Inevitably, his legend began to grow but even with a $100,000 reward on his head, police could not nail him down, and the nation began to suspect some locals might be reluctant to betray Naden.

Australians who alert authorities to another's "crime,'' such as an infraction in the schoolyard or workplace, are still said to have "dobbed them in.''

They then become a "Dobber,'' and while every country has its own interpretation of the tell-tale and unique language to deride them, the ritual humiliation of a Dobber remains in many areas of Australia a remarkably powerful social tradition.

Canadians might be aware of an Australian folk hero call Ned Kelly, a cop killer and bank robber who ended his life at the end of a rope in a Melbourne jail in November 1880.

Kelly survived for several years in rural Victoria with a massive reward on his head partly because the locals were reluctant to provide information to the police.

That combined with Kelly's bushcraft -- his ability to live off the land without apparent shelter or reliable sustenance -- along with vague sympathies his Irish heritage made him a target for police oppression, ensured his memory has lingered for a century and a half.

Naden is no Ned Kelly and Australians are not foolish enough to make a hero of him.

He is wanted for questioning on serious crimes including homicide.

The nation breathed a sigh of relief when the police search, which cost millions of dollars, finally ended Thursday morning.

Naden was bitten by a police dog in the short scuffle that led to his arrest after he was detected in a house on private property.

Assistant Commissioner Carlene York, who commands Strike Force Durkin set up to capture Naden, said specialist officers had driven into bushland in pursuit of Naden but then set off on foot through tough terrain.

"They then surrounded the house and there were indications of movement inside,'' she said.

Naden came out of a doorway, was confronted by the police and then quickly retreated back into the house, possibly to retrieve a rifle he had stolen earlier.

"A short scuffle ensued, where he was then arrested," York said.

Naden was first suspected of having broken his wrist in the scuffle but was later found not to be seriously hurt.

Mick Peet, father of missing Lateesha Nolan, highlighted the pain Naden's alleged crimes have caused when he told journalists the capture may lead to solving the mystery of his daughter's disappearance.

"I sort of felt like falling to the ground on my knees, I didn't know what to say.''

New South Wales police commissioner Andrew Scipione underscored the extent of state police resources that went into finding Naden when he praised police officers on Thursday morning.

"I want to pay tribute to those people from the tactical operations unit, the dog unit, the air wing, our general-duties police and other specialist units whose work has been invaluable. Everyone who contributed can stand tall.''

Naden is in good physical health and now safely behind bars, presumably with little chance of bail, and anyone who contributed to his capture by "dobbing him in'' can also stand tall.

But few would dispute that, without in any way excusing or mitigating Naden's alleged crimes, his survival for seven years in the natural world is impressive.

Michael Madigan is the Australia correspondent of the Winnipeg Free Press. He writes mostly about politics for the Brisbane-based Courier Mail.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition March 23, 2012 A14

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