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Teen's 10-hour 'neck bomb' ordeal

By Kathy Marks

The leafy Sydney suburb of Mosman had never seen anything like The drama unfolding inside one of its waterfront mansions yesterday. For 10 hours, experts worked to free an 18-year-old from a suspected bomb strapped to her neck by a balaclava-clad intruder, finally releasing her unharmed just before midnight local time.

The daughter of Bill Pulver, a prominent businessman and one of Sydney's richest men, had been at home alone when the man broke in at about 2pm.

After attaching the device, he reportedly hung a note demanding money around Madeleine's neck, then left.

The terrified girl, who is in her final year at a private school in nearby North Sydney, managed to phone her father, who contacted police.

Ambulances, rescue teams and bomb disposal officers raced to the house, and police sealed off the street, Burrawong Avenue, which is home to sports stars and socialites including Phil Kearns, a former member of the national rugby union team.

As curious neighbours gathered at the police cordon and Madeleine's distraught parents Bill and Belinda waited outside their multi-million-dollar house, unable to speak to her, two explosives experts began the delicate operation of removing what police called a "very elaborate, very sophisticated device".

The pair, along with two police negotiators, talked to Madeleine to keep her calm.

Assistant Police Commissioner Mark Murdoch said she had done "a great job keeping her emotions in check". Last night, with the so-called collar bomb off, she was recovering from her ordeal and back with her parents.

Many questions remained unanswered, though, including the identity of the masked intruder and what he expected to gain from the extortion attempt. It was not even clear whether the device was a bomb.

According to local media, a man who allegedly tried to extort cash from several Sydney families in the past was rearrested earlier this week.

Police declined to say whether the man, who sent letters threatening children with violence unless payments were made, was connected to yesterday's events.

Other reports quoted police sources as saying that the intruder had warned Madeleine before he left that he could trigger the bomb by remote control, and he had attached a microphone enabling him to hear everything she said.

Mr Pulver is chief executive of an international software company Appen. He and his wife have three other children, all boys.

"I've been doing this job for a long time, and this is certainly up there in terms of being unusual and difficult to deal with. I've never heard of anything like this in Australia before," Mr Murdoch said.

Another senior New South Wales officer said that while collar bombs had been used during attempted bank robberies in the US, it was the first time such a device had been seen in Australia.

The explosives officers sought advice from British military bomb disposal experts, as well as the Australian Federal Police, as they worked to free Madeleine.

As the excitement died down, Mr Murdoch said Madeleine was "in good hands. She's with mum and dad, who are the best people to be with at this time".

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