Talks on child murders link (21.4.86)

Talks on child murders link – Investigation of Sarah Harper case
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Times, The (London, England)-April 21, 1986
Author: PETER DAVENPORT and STEWART TENDLER

Detectives investigating the murder of Sarah Harper, aged 10, will attend a conference at Scotland Yard today called to establish any possible links in brutal child killings and abductions in the past eight years.

Officers from more than 20 forces will be at the meeting called by C11, the criminal intelligence department under Commander Philip Corbett.

Yesterday senior detectives from Nottingham and West Yorkshire emphasized that the conference had been planned before the discovery of Sarah’s body in the river Trent on Saturday.

Mr Ron Hadfield, deputy chief constable of Nottinghamshire, did not want to be drawn on connections with other unsolved child murders so early in the inquiry, in case, he said, speculation had an adverse effect on possible witnesses.

However, he added: ‘Linking is clearly something we have an open mind on. ‘

The conference will be looking at the murder of 12 children and another four abductions in which bodies were never found. They go back eight years involving children between the ages of five and 16 years. The detectives will be seeking to establish if there are common links between any of the cases.

Yesterday in a radio interview Mr Corbett said: ‘They are all cases where blanks have been drawn. They are extremely frustrating because of the enormous effort that has been expended.

‘Yet we are unable to say whether there are positive connections to be found. It is on Monday that we hope, if there are connections to be made, that we can in fact make them. ‘

Detectives from West Yorkshire, in charge of the Sarah Harper inquiry, will, it is understood, be looking particularly closely at the abduction and murder of Susan Maxwell, aged 11, in 1982 and Caroline Hogg, aged five, a year later.

Both children were snatched near their homes and their bodies later found hundreds of miles away close to motorways. Susan, taken while walking near her home at Coldstream in the Borders was found 15 days later, 200 miles away at Loxley in Staffordshire. Caroline, from Edinburgh, was found 10 days after she vanished, her body dumped near Twycross in Leicestershire.

The nationwide search for Sarah turned into a murder inquiry 24 days after she disappeared from her home in Morley, near Leeds, while visiting the corner shop to buy a loaf of bread.

Despite intensive inquiries police have been unable to find anyone who had seen Sarah after she left the shop shortly after 8 pm to walk the 200 yards home.

The search for her ended at 8:30 am on Saturday as Mr David Moult, of Cribb Close, Wilford, near Nottingham, was out walking his dog along the banks of the river.

Det Supt John Stainthorpe, in charge of the inquiry since Sarah disappeared, said yesterday she had been sexually assaulted and there was evidence of violence on her body.

Mrs Jackie Harper, aged 26, Sarah’s mother, hoped yesterday that the police would ‘get the devil’ responsible. ‘Whoever has done this should come forward. If anyone is shielding him, they too should come forward. ‘

Mr Corbett said the possibility of one murderer or one group responsible for all the cases could not be ruled out.

However, he said, the idea of, for example, one gang operating nationwide was ‘far too dramatic and strong’.

There are known to be similarities between some cases and these are already being investigated by several forces working together.

Mr Corbett is trying to get all the officers in all outstanding cases to come together for a fresh look at the evidence to see if new inquiries are prompted.

Between 30 and 40 officers from 16 forces with the rank of head of CID or assistant chief constable are attending the one-day conference.

The conference has been given extra impetus by the discovery of Sarah Harper’s body and a dual investigation by Essex and London police into the death of two boys.

Mr Corbett said the case conference would start with a presentation on the investigation into the murder of the two boys, Jason Swift, aged 14, and Barry Lewis, aged six.

Provincial officers would then be asked if the cases had any similarities to their own or prompted any comment. This might then spur more discussion.

The delegates will include not only detectives but also staff of forensic science laboratories in England and Scotland who have been involved in the investigations.

The conference is considered especially valuable because at the moment not all incidents are computerized and so there is no easy way of bringing all information together.

Mr Corbett said: ‘The purpose is to allow officers with outstanding cases to compare and contrast details. I hope we will come away from the meeting with more information than we have today. ‘

Among similarities which have been identified in some cases is the fact that funfairs were linked to the disappearance of children in different parts of the country. There was also the fact that a number of the cases showed that the criminal was opportunist rather than planning his attack. In some instances children had been taken close to their homes.

The cases which the police discuss today start with the disappearance of Jenette Tate, aged 13, who vanished after going on a paper-round in Aylesbeare, Devon, in 1978.

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