'Fugitive hid with cult'

Herberton, Australia - FUGITIVE Luke Hunter hid out in a religious cult and kept secret his alleged jailbreak during nearly 15 years on the run.

But his split with the north Queensland Jesus Group sect may prove to have been his undoing.

Hunter, 42, was arrested as he went for his morning jog in the tiny town of Herberton on Sunday.

Police acting on a tip-off ran a three-day, 10-man covert surveillance team, dubbed Operation Blaze, before arresting one of Australia's most wanted fugitives.

Locals say the tall, heavily tattooed, and freckled redhead had moved into a unit in the former tin-mining hamlet on the Atherton Tablelands with a younger woman about eight months ago.

He had been working as an odd-jobs man and groundkeeper in town.

Yesterday Hunter was supported in Cairns Magistrates Court by two women and a toddler, all wearing headscarves, one of the emblems of the cult, and a bearded man.

Police are investigating whether the religious cult helped harbour Hunter.

The Jesus Group has strict rules about associating with outsiders and has strongholds in Cairns, on the Tablelands, near Brisbane and at Parkes in NSW.

Detective Inspector Ed Kinbacher said the former jailbird appeared to have severed ties with the sect.

"I understand at the time (of his arrest) he was estranged from the group and had no direct links with them," Inspector Kinbacher said.

"Those immediately around him had no clue as to his background. He was just someone they met and who had kept quiet about his past, naturally enough."

He denied suggestions Hunter had undergone plastic surgery to disguise his identity.

"His appearance was the same, obviously 14 years had passed, but there are just the natural changes of years gone by."

It is understood Hunter may have first fled to Sydney before making his way to a new life under an assumed identity briefly in Cairns and then on the Atherton Tablelands in 2005.

"He was living with a younger woman, which was just a friendship, they were cohabiting together in the same unit," said Det Insp Kinbacher.

"He had no children.

"He was a high priority target as the state's sole outstanding jail-breaker."

Fellow Herberton lawn maintenance worker Harold Hellmuth said the arrest was the talk of the town.

"You can't run forever," said Mr Hellmuth.

"It goes to show it catches up with you."

Hunter, who did not appear in court, was yesterday escorted under high-security to be flown to Arthur Gorrie prison in Brisbane.

Deemed a "high-risk prisoner", he was remanded in custody to appear by video-link on a charge of unlawful escape from custody on March 2.

Hunter is alleged to have escaped from Borallon Correctional Centre, near Ipswich in 1996.