The mystery over the body of a British backpacker thought to have been murdered in Australia has deepened after Australian police denied finding his remains close to where he was last seen.

Peter Falconio, who was 28, and his girlfriend Joanne Lees were ambushed as they were travelling between Alice Springs and Broome in the central Australian outback in 2001.

Ms Lees flagged down a lorry, saying they had been attacked. But the driver then shot Mr Falconio, she said, before tying her up.

The driver, drug runner Bradley Murdoch, was eventually tried and jailed for life for the killing. But he has always protested his innocence and refused to reveal where Mr Falconio’s body is.

The Sydney Morning Herald has now reported that human remains were found in Alice Springs, near the area where investigators believed Murdoch dumped his body. The remains would be tested to check whether they belonged to the backpacker because of their age and location, the site said.

But police have denied any remains had been discovered.

“No human remains have been located by Northern Territory Police, and a search is not currently being conducted,” the force said. “Current media reports are factually incorrect.”

Assistant commissioner Michael White said: “NT Police would like to advise the public that speculating on the identity on any missing person causes unwarranted grief and trauma to the family and friends.”

The human remains were found as police searched for a missing woman, Angie Fuller, 30, who vanished on 9 January. Her disappearance is being treated as murder.

Mr Falconio’s murder made headlines across the world but numerous searches over the years have failed to find his remains.

Last year, as police issued a fresh appeal for information, the South Australian government said it would consider offering a reward to anyone who helped find the body.

Mr Falconio’s Joan, 75, appealed to the authorities to help, saying: “We want to bring Peter home where he belongs near his family. Our pain is always with us.

“Peter has a beautiful niece and two lovely nephews who he never got to see or know. I am appealing to anyone with a conscience to help me however small to tell me where he [Peter] was put.”

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