The West

Picture: Michael O'Brien/The West Australian

The former owner of a Badgingarra property being searched this week in relation to missing teenager Hayley Dodd is serving 12 years jail in Queensland for the rape of a female hitchhiker whom he held captive.

Francis John Wark sold the Wheatbelt property shortly after 17-year-old Hayley vanished in 1999. He later moved to a small town in far north Queensland.

As police yesterday continued their search around the farmhouse, about 1km from where Hayley was last seen hitchhiking, it emerged that Wark had been jailed in 2007 after pleading guilty to attacking a 32-year-old woman and holding her captive at his Queensland property.

The Cairns District Court judge who sentenced the 51-year-old described it as "a shocking and horrible and prolonged series of violent and sexual assaults". Court documents revealed Wark offered the woman a lift after seeing her walking along a north Queensland highway about 1am on a Saturday and persuaded her to stop by his home for a tea. But he later refused to drive her home and when she tried to leave, he struck her twice in the head with a piece of wood.

When she asked him why he was doing it, he said: "This is rape." He dragged her back into the house by her hair, stripped her naked and tied her to a bed.

For several terrifying hours, he sexually assaulted the woman, abused her, bit and slapped her, whipped her and "covered her mouth and nose so she found it difficult to breathe".

During an appeal in 2008, where his jail term was cut from 13 years to 12, Justice Keiran Cullinane said Wark told the woman he was going to "keep her" and that as long as she did as he said, she would be fine.

The woman feared she would be killed and her ordeal ended only when she managed to get free of her rope binding and Wark went to another room. He chased her but she managed to reach a neighbouring house where the residents helped her and called police, the court was told.

"The conduct in this case involved brutal and degrading treatment of the complainant with some features which could be described as sadistic," Justice Cullinane said during the appeal.

At the time of Hayley's disappearance it is understood Wark told police and others he was in hospital and someone else had been looking after his property.

It is understood police did not consider him a suspect.

Wark's criminal record was limited. He had a conviction in Queensland for producing and possessing dangerous drugs and had similar minor drug-related offences in WA in the 1980s.

Wark's lawyer told the court he had a problem controlling his alcohol use and had been drinking at a pub in the hours before he attacked the hitchhiker. Through his lawyer, Wark expressed some shame about what he had done.

Hayley was last seen hitchhiking on North West Road, close to the property now being searched by police. WA Police said yesterday for operational reasons they would not comment on who was a suspect.

Details of Wark's conviction come after a former major crime squad detective criticised the police handling of the Dodd case, claiming it was written off too early as a missing person case because of budget constraints.

Police Commissioner Karl O'Callaghan said police were focused on investigating the new information. But he said if a review or coronial inquiry found police had done anything wrong, he would do something about it.

Police at the property formerly owned by Wark yesterday cleared concrete slabs, branches and limestone blocks from around the house, while Dandaragan shire workers used machinery to collect debris. The man who now owns the North West Road property said it was the fourth time it had been searched since Hayley's disappearance.

The West Australian

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