Suspect admits killing Dom Phillips and Bruno Pereira in Amazon and leads police to bodies

16 June 2022, 05:35 | Updated: 16 June 2022, 11:54

Dom Phillips went missing with his guide in Brazil
Dom Phillips went missing with his guide in Brazil. Picture: Alamy/Getty

By Daisy Stephens

A suspect has confessed to fatally shooting British journalist Dom Phillips and his Brazilian companion Bruno Pereira in the Amazon, Brazil's federal police have said.

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Amarildo da Costa de Oliveira, 41, nicknamed Pelado, led officers to two bodies which are expected to be identified within days.

Mr Phillips' wife Alessandra Sampaio said "we can now bring them home and say goodbye".

"Although we are still awaiting definitive confirmations, this tragic outcome puts an end to the anguish of not knowing Dom and Bruno's whereabouts," she said.

"Now we can bring them home and say goodbye with love.

"Today, we also begin our quest for justice.

"I hope that the investigations exhaust all possibilities and bring definitive answers on all relevant details as soon as possible."

Earlier this week, the Brazilian ambassador to the UK apologised to Mr Phillips' family after they were incorrectly told his body had been found.

According to The Guardian, the family received a call from an aide to the ambassador early on Monday saying their bodies had been discovered tied to trees in the rainforest.

However, Mr Phillips' brother-in-law, Paul Sherwood, confirmed to the PA news agency on Tuesday that ambassador Fred Arruda had written to the family to say the statement was incorrect.

Dom Phillips talking to two indigenous men in Aldeia Maloca Papiú, Brazil, in November 2019
Dom Phillips talking to two indigenous men in Aldeia Maloca Papiú, Brazil, in November 2019. Picture: Getty

Police said at a news conference in the city of Manaus that the prime suspect in the case confessed and detailed what happened to the pair, who went missing on June 5.

The federal investigator, Eduardo Alexandre Fontes, said Pelado told officers he used a firearm to kill the two men.

Read more: Human remains found in search for missing British journalist as suspects 'confess murder'

Read more: Second arrest in search for missing British journalist in Amazon

"We would have no way of getting to that spot quickly without the confession," Mr Fontes said of the place where police recovered human remains on Wednesday after being led there by Pelado.

The investigator added that the remains, if confirmed as the missing men, "will be returned to the families of the two".

Police said other arrests would soon be made in the case.

Dom Phillips went missing in Brazil
Dom Phillips went missing in Brazil. Picture: Getty

"We found the bodies three kilometres (nearly two miles) into the woods," he said, adding that rescue teams travelled about one hour and forty minutes on the river and another 25 into the woods to reach the burial spot.

Pelado's family had said previously that he denied any wrongdoing and claimed police tortured him to try to get a confession.

Another officer, Guilherme Torres of the Amazonas state police, said the missing men's boat had not been found yet but police knew the area where it purportedly was hidden by those involved in the crime.

"They put bags of dirt on the boat so it would sink," he said.

The family of Dom Phillips take part in a vigil outside the Brazilian Embassy in London for Mr Phillips and Mr Pereira
The family of Dom Phillips take part in a vigil outside the Brazilian Embassy in London for Mr Phillips and Mr Pereira. Picture: Alamy

As federal police announced they would hold a news conference, colleagues of Mr Pereira called a vigil outside the headquarters of the Brazilian government's Indigenous affairs agency in Brasilia.

The indigenous expert was on leave from the agency when he disappeared on June 5 while travelling with Mr Phillips, a British freelance journalist and regular contributor to The Guardian newspaper.

Read more: Blood found on boat in search for British journalist missing in Amazon

Mr Pereira, 41, and Mr Phillips, 57, were last seen on their boat in a river near the entrance of the Javari Valley Indigenous Territory, which borders Peru and Colombia.

The area has seen violent conflicts between fishermen, poachers and government agents.

Developments began moving on Wednesday when federal police officers took a suspect they did not identify at the time out on the river toward search parties looking for the missing men.

An Associated Press photographer in Atalaia do Norte, the city closest to the search zone, witnessed police taking the suspect, who was in a hood.

Indigenous people who were with Mr Pereira and Mr Phillips have said that Mr da Costa de Oliveira brandished a rifle at them on the day before the two men disappeared.

Police have been searching for over a week
Police have been searching for over a week. Picture: Alamy

The announcement about the discovery of "human remains" was made on Wednesday night.

Justice Minister Anderson Torres tweeted: "I have just been informed by the federal police that 'human remains were found at the site where excavations were being carried out'.

"They will undergo forensic analysis.

"Later today, those responsible for the investigations will hold a press conference in Manaus."

According to TV Globo, a Brazilian broadcaster which cited police sources, Pelado's brother Oseney da Costa de Oliveira also admitted to killing the pair.

However this is yet to be confirmed by police.

Read more: Family of British journalist missing in the Amazon urges action

Fisherman Pelado was arrested last week on weapons charges, and his brother Oseney - known as "Dos Santos" - was taken into custody on Tuesday night.

Brazilian broadcaster Band News reported that federal police said the suspects allegedly dismembered the bodies, set them on fire and threw them in a ditch.

There have been demonstrations in Brazil since the pair disappeard
There have been demonstrations in Brazil since the pair disappeard. Picture: Alamy

Mr Phillips, a freelance reporter, was doing research for a book on the trip with Mr Pereira, according to Reuters.

They were in a remote jungle area near the border with Colombia and Peru called the Javari Valley, which is home to the world's largest number of uncontacted indigenous people.

Boris Johnson said on Wednesday that he was deeply concerned about Mr Phillips' disappearance.

"Like everybody in this House [of Commons], we're deeply concerned about what may have happened to him," he said, when former Tory prime minister Theresa May insisted the UK must do "everything it can" to press Brazilian authorities to uncover the truth about the disappearances.

"FCDO officials are working closely now with the Brazilian authorities."

He added: "What we've told the Brazilians is that we stand ready to provide all the support that they may need."

President Jair Bolsonaro said on Wednesday afternoon he expected the case to be resolved "in coming hours".