A brilliant Brighton University graduate is feared dead after he and his girlfriend were kidnapped in the Australian outback.

Peter Falconio, 28, who completed a degree in building and construction management in June last year, and girlfriend Joanne Lees, 27, were ambushed in their camper van on a desert highway 175 miles north of Alice Springs.

Joanne has told police she was trussed up and thrown into a van by the mystery attacker, but managed to escape by wriggling her legs free and fleeing into the outback.

Fears were today growing that Peter may have been shot.

Dr Kassim Gidado, Peter's personal tutor and course leader at the university, said: "Peter is a very determined young man. He was looking forward to a professional career in the construction industry.

"On his sandwich year he was offered a job and took it, so he successfully studied for his final year part-time. He really was one of the high fliers on the course and very popular.

"We are all praying he is OK."

Peter's family, who live in Hepworth, West Yorkshire, were today waiting for news.

His brother Paul said: "Nobody has said anything official. We are waiting for the phone to ring and are just sitting tight and praying."

Peter left Britain with his girlfriend of five years last November to go on the world tour.

They visited Thailand and Cambodia before heading to Australia, where they had been touring the country in a camper van.