A drug-addicted drifter began a life sentence yesterday after he was found guilty of murdering backpacker Caroline Stuttle in Australia.

Ian Previte, 32, was also convicted on one count of robbery with personal violence against 19-year-old Caroline, who plunged 30ft to her death from the Burnett River Bridge, in Bundaberg, during a violent bag snatch on April 10, 2002.

She died instantly when her skull fractured and her spine was severed as she hit the ground, the trial at Bundaberg Supreme Court, in Queensland, was told.

Caroline, from York, was travelling in Australia with a friend and had only been in the farming town of Bundaberg for a few days when she was killed.

She was walking home to a caravan park after making a telephone call to her boyfriend, Ian Nelson, in England, when Previte, who had taken a cocktail of substances, attacked her in an attempt to steal money for drugs.

Previte, wearing a black shirt and grey trousers, showed no emotion as he was jailed for life.

Handing down the sentence, Justice Peter Dutney said: ''Caroline Stuttle should have been enjoying the holiday of a lifetime.

''Instead, your act of throwing her off a bridge, in the dark, in a strange country, for a miserable few dollars, killed her in the most dreadful way.''

Crown prosecutor Peter Feeney, arguing for a concurrent ten-year sentence to be passed for the charge of robbery, said: "He was preying on a girl walking alone at night.''

During the trial, the court heard that Previte had smoked marijuana and taken a cocktail of drugs before robbing and murdering Caroline.

He boasted of the killing during conversations with cellmates that were secretly recorded. He also admitted killing Caroline in a recorded police interview.

He described how Caroline fought to hold on to her handbag after he grabbed it when he saw her on the bridge. He said he "flung" her around as she struggled and she went over the side of the railing.

After the verdict, Caroline's father, Alan, who attended the trial, said he was pleased with the result.

He said: "It is a great relief for the family. It draws a line under this awful situation."

He added: "We are so relieved this matter has finally been put to sleep and I think it is important now we all move forward with great confidence and know this is not hanging over our heads. It has been two-and-a-half years of a great deal of pain and anguish.''

Mr Stuttle praised his daughter and her brother, Richard, who also attended the trial.

"I am very proud of my daughter," he said. "She was doing what she wanted to do, she was in a wonderful country, she was having the holiday of a lifetime."

Caroline's mother, Marjorie Marks-Stuttle, who is divorced from Mr Stuttle, said the verdict was good news.

Minutes after Previte was found guilty, she said her feelings were "just relief that justice has seen to be done".

Following her daughter's murder, Mrs Marks-Stuttle set up Caroline's Rainbow Foundation, a charity that raises awareness of the importance of personal safety when backpacking.

''Her rainbow is always with us. If we can save another life, so parents don't have to go what we've been through, then that will be a relief to help other people," she said.

For information about Caroline's Rainbow Foundation, visit www.carolinesrainbowfoundation.com