Samantha Murphy: police end targeted search as they examine phone found in dam near Ballarat

<span>Police examine what appears to be a phone at a Buninyong dam during a search, as part of their investigation into the alleged murder of Samantha Murphy.</span><span>Photograph: ABC News</span>
Police examine what appears to be a phone at a Buninyong dam during a search, as part of their investigation into the alleged murder of Samantha Murphy.Photograph: ABC News

Victoria police have ended their search of farmland south of Ballarat amid forensic testing of “items of interest”, after finding a phone at a dam during their investigation into missing woman Samantha Murphy.

Murphy, 51, was last seen nearly four months ago, when she left her Ballarat East home to go for a run on 4 February.

In March police charged 22-year-old Patrick Stephenson with Murphy’s murder after arresting him in the nearby farming town of Scotsburn.

Related: Samantha Murphy: ‘items of interest’ found in new search for Ballarat woman months after she disappeared

In a major development in the search for Murphy, police on Wednesday said “items of interest” had been found in Buninyong, about 11km south of Ballarat.

Footage and photographs from the scene show officers lifting what appears to be a phone on the bank of a dam, although police would not confirm what the items of interest were. Footage also showed some searchers hugging each other after seeing the object at the dam.

Murphy’s phone last pinged off a tower in Buninyong tower at 5pm on the day she went missing.

On Thursday morning police said the search of the area had concluded.

Police had cordoned off the area on Wednesday and said items they found would be forensically tested.

“The items were located during today’s targeted search, which involved investigators and other specialist units from across Victoria Police and assistance from the AFP,” police said on Wednesday.

They said further information would be provided after the testing was completed.

Detectives had scoured areas of the regional Victorian city after announcing the renewed search.

Murphy’s family had been advised of the search, police said.

Police said detectives had conducted a range of inquiries and small-scale searches as part of the investigation.

Past searches have zeroed in on Enfield state park, about 25km south of Ballarat, and Buninyong. Searches have also focused on the Woowookarung regional park, known by locals as the Canadian forest, on the south-eastern fringe of Ballarat.

Stephenson is due to appear at the Ballarat magistrates court on 8 August.

Murphy’s family reported the mother of three missing when she did not return home from a 7am run on Sunday 4 February. She had told family and friends she planned to go for a 14km run.