Billingborough teenager’s night out Down Under almost sparks manhunt

Joe Stuttle with a wallaby while in Tasmania
Joe Stuttle with a wallaby while in Tasmania
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A teenager thousands of miles away from home caused chaos in Tasmania when he was reported missing while on a night out.

Joe Stuttle, 19, from Billingborough, spent last week touring Tasmania on a bike as part of his gap year in Australia. On Saturday night he planned to stay at Launceston Gorge national park, where he chained his bike and his bag containing all his belongings including his passport to a fence.

Joe innocently went for a walk into town and ended up staying at a new friend’s house.

But security staff at the gorge became concerned when they found Joe’s bike the following morning and raised the alarm. Search and rescue teams, including emergency service volunteers and police had been assembled, and police were giving a press conference, when Joe wandered into the car park wondering what all the fuss was about.

Joe said he had just gone into town to make the most of his last night in Tasmania and see the Christmas lights being switched on.

He said Launceston Gorge is a known suicide spot and police were moments away from calling in divers and helicopters to carry out a search of the area.

Joe said: “I had a great night but when I came back in the morning, I found my bike stolen. Thankfully there were 30 officers in hiking gear from state police so I asked them and it turned out they were looking for me.”

Joe apologised for causing such worry, particularly for his parents, and said he was grateful that Australian authorities had taken the incident seriously.

He added: “There was an incredible fuss but it really is a reflection of the fantastic work of Tasmanian police. They were efficient, fast and friendly. They had a formal press announcement within two hours of finding the bike, after interviewing everyone who had seen me.

“They phoned people I knew in England and Australia, organised search parties and informed my family.

“But when I sauntered back like an idiot, they didn’t even seem to mind. They were just happy I was safe.”

Joe said he had learned his lesson.

He said: “I shouldn’t have left my passport and everything out all night and I should have come back at 8am instead of noon.

“But I got a bit on two TV stations and a ride in a Holden police car, which I’ve wanted to do ever since I’ve arrived.”

His parents Lorraine and Chris, who still live in Billingborough, were away on holiday and were thankfully not too worried about their son’s antics.

Chris said: “Anyone who knows Joe will not be in the least surprised by this story. It certainly didn’t come as any surprise to us.”

Joe plans to spend the next 11 months in Australia, after studying at the Robert Manning Technology College, now the Bourne Academy, Bourne Grammar School and The Deepings School.

He is blogging about his adventures at http://joestuttle.wordpress.com.