AUSTRALIAN police have spoken out against claims British backpacker Jamie Neale faked being lost in the Blue Mountains National Park in order to sell his story to the media. The 19-year-old, who slept under shelters made of bark and lived on kangaroo berries for 12 days, sold his story to Australian television for £100,000.
But police, who were initially suspicious, say his account rings true – and is one of the greatest stories of survival ever heard in the region.
As Mr Neale left hospital yesterday, still slightly dazed and with suspected pneumonia, Police Commander Anthony McWhirter said he had heard enough to be convinced his tale of surviving in the wilderness was genuine.
He said: “There is nothing, nothing at all to suggest that this is anything other than the greatest tale of survival that we’ve seen in the mountains.”
It emerged yesterday that Mr Neale is set to make at least £100,000 from his story. He will appear on Australia’s 60 Minutes programme on Channel Nine on Sunday night and has also struck a deal with an Australian women’s magazine.
It is not clear whether Mr Neale, who has an Australian press agent, has made any deals with British news organisations. Media pundit Mark Borkowski said: “Whether he can make real money out of it depends on his character – if he turns out to be the Gordon Brown of the survival world he’s in trouble.
“We are living in a cynical age – people look through the lens of publicity and ask ‘What’s in it for them?’ But I must admit it is the first thing I thought of.”
Mr Neale’s step-father, Richard Cass, said the student had been hurt by claims he had faked his ordeal.
He said: “He’s aware that people are disbelieving. I know my boy, I know he’s been out there for that period of time.”
Yesterday further details of the teenager’s journey began to come to light. He disappeared from the hostel he was staying in on 3 July having left his mobile phone behind in his room.
Mr Neale told police he had lost his way and become disorientated after scrambling down a cliff face near Mount Solitary.
Commander McWhirter said: “He thought he was in dire straits when he failed to see the helicopters fly any more. He said ‘At that stage I thought they’d given up searching for me’.”
The student, who was making his first big trip abroad, tried following a riverbank to find his way out of the woods.
He ate kangaroo berries, drank water from streams and at night ripped big pieces of bark from eucalyptus trees to make impromptu shelters.
Mr Cass said he was overjoyed to be reunited with Mr Neale – who is in good health, although with bubbles on his lungs which may be the early stages of pneumonia. “He’s come back from the dead,” he said. “I’m just so pleased to see him. It’s fantastic.”