Disappearance of Charlene Downes

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Charlene Downes
Born (1989-03-25)25 March 1989[citation needed]
Disappeared 1 November 2003 (aged 14)
Blackpool, Lancashire, England
Status Presumed dead
Died c. 1 November 2003(2003-11-01) (aged 14)
Residence Blackpool
Nationality British
Height 155 cm (5 ft 1 in)

Charlene Downes (born 25 March 1989) disappeared from her home town of Blackpool, England, on 1 November 2003, when she was 14. Her whereabouts are unknown. She was last seen in an area of the town centre with several takeaway and fast-food units. Police believe that she had been the victim of child sexual abuse at the hands of one or more men for a protracted period, and that she was murdered within hours of her disappearance.[1][2]

The police interviewed 3,000 people, and found that Downes and other girls had been "swapping sex for food, cigarettes and affection",[1] a form of child sexual exploitation known as localised grooming. It is thought that 60 girls in the area may have been targeted.[3]

Two men were tried in May 2007—one for Downes' murder, the other for helping to dispose of her body—but the jury failed to reach a verdict. A re-trial was scheduled, but in April 2008 the accused were released because of concerns about the evidence compiled by Lancashire Constabulary.[4][5] The trials brought to light what Julie Bindel described in The Guardian as "endemic child sexual abuse and prostitution in the seaside town".[1]

On 1 August 2017 police said that a 51-year-old man had been arrested on suspicion of murder and was in custody. A £100,000 reward remains on offer for information leading to the conviction of her killer or killers.

Background

Downes was born to Robert Downes, a former soldier, and Karen Downes. She had two sisters and a brother, and they lived in Buchanan Street, Blackpool.[6][7] The family had moved to Blackpool from the West Midlands in 1999.[8] Downes was educated at St George's School in the town. She was described in court as "well and happy", but she had adopted a "chaotic" lifestyle after being expelled from school, frequenting the area around Blackpool's Central Promenade.[9][10] According to an internal police report, Downes was one of 60 children, some as young as 11, who had been groomed to carry out sex acts.[10][11][12]

Disappearance

Last sightings

In the early evening of Saturday, 1 November 2003, Downes told her mother that she was going to meet friends on Blackpool's Central Promenade where the town's amusement arcades are located.[13] She was spotted last in Abingdon Street and the back of Clifton Street. She is now believed to have died within hours of these sightings.[10][14][15][16]

Police response

After the disappearance, a police report identified Downes as a victim of a widespread pattern of sexual abuse. Although the sexual abuse she was believed to have been subjected to had centred on kebab shops in the promenade area, which is where she was heading when last seen, police continued to consider her as a missing person rather than a murder victim for more than a year.[1] The search for Downes as a 'missing person' came to involve a large police team. The case became one of Lancashire longest lasting investigations involving a child gone missing from home,[citation needed] before police started to treat it as a murder, reportedly after information about the circumstances of her disappearance "leaked out" to the public.[17][18]

Murder trial

Following the decision to start treating Downes disappearance as a murder, there were a number of arrests in the case. In 2007 two men were put on trial. The prosecution alleged at Preston Crown Court that Charlene Downes, 14, was killed by Iyad Albattikhi, a 29-year-old man from Jordan, the owner of "Funny Boyz" fast-food outlet in Blackpool.[19] Mohammed Reveshi, Albattikhi's business partner, was accused of disposing of her body. According to the prosecution, the defendants had sex with Downes.[20] The prosecution alleged the men spoke of disposing of her body by putting it in kebabs sold from a fast food outlet.[1][21] The jury failed to reach a verdict, and at a re-trial the prosecution withdrew the charges.[22] Both defendants were freed and given compensation for false arrest of around £250,000.[2][1][23]

There has not been another prosecution,[2] though Albattikhi has been prosecuted for other crimes against young English girls.[24]

After a critical report by the Independent Police Complaints Commission, one of the detectives involved, Det Sgt Jan Beasant, was found guilty of misconduct by Lancashire Constabulary and told to resign, but the Police Arbitration Tribunal overturned the decision.[25] In 2014 it was announced that Beasant was suing police for up to £500,000.[26]

Subsequent publicity

The trial brought to public attention what Julie Bindel described as "endemic child sexual abuse".[1][11][27] The Daily Telegraph reported that Mick Gradwell, a former detective superintendent with Lancashire Police, had told another newspaper that the investigation into sexual abuse in Blackpool was being "hampered by political correctness".[28] In July 2013 journalist Sean Thomas noted in The Daily Telegraph that the original Charlene Downes article on Wikipedia had been deleted, and argued that this might indicate editorial bias regarding "racialised" murders of white victims, which, he wrote, receive less media coverage compared to similar murders of black and ethnic minority victims.[29]

In May 2014, with the cooperation of Karen Downes, an independent documentary, 10 Years Lost, about Downes' disappearance and the effects on her family, was released.[30] The case was also the subject of BBC One's Panorama "The Girl Who Vanished" programme on 10 November 2014.[31] In December 2014, as part of BBC Crimewatch, a £100,000 reward was offered.[32]

In February 2015 Downes' 21-year-old brother appeared in court and admitted harassing the man who had faced a charge of helping to dispose of her body. [33] Also in February 2015, her 24-year-old sister, Emma, was charged with the racially aggravated assault of the brother of the man cleared by the court of murdering Downes. The individual had approached Emma Downes in a nightclub and taunted her with claims of his brother's innocence.[34][35] In February 2015 Downes' mother was attacked by another one of her daughters,[36] and by a web stalker.[37]

2017 arrest

On 1 August 2017 police announced that a man has been arrested in connection with the murder. A 51-year-old from Preston, who lived in Blackpool at the time of Downes' disappearance, was being held in custody on suspicion of murder.[38][39]

See also

References

  1. ^ a b c d e f g Julie Bindel (30 May 2008). "Beyond the pleasure beach". The Guardian. 
  2. ^ a b c "Man cleared over Charlene murder". BBC News. 9 April 2008. 
  3. ^ "Independent Appeal: The project that could prevent another Charlene Downes from disappearing". 27 December 2011. 
  4. ^ "IPCC concludes managed investigation into reasons behind collapse of Charlene Downes trial", Independent Police Complaints Commission, 15 October 2009.
  5. ^ "Paige Chivers murder accused faces trial". 
  6. ^ "Nightmare for Charlene's family". Blackpool Citizen. 17 August 2007. Retrieved 1 August 2013. 
  7. ^ "Heartbroken dad's ride for daughter's memorial". Blackpool Gazette. 28 August 2008. Retrieved 1 August 2013. 
  8. ^ "In a car in the dark alley, a man's arm reached out to caress a child". The Times. 7 April 2011. 
  9. ^ "Memorial service to mark birthday". Blackpool Gazette. 24 March 2012. Retrieved 1 August 2013. 
  10. ^ a b c "Schoolgirl 'murdered by shop owner'". Blackpool Citizen. 24 May 2007. Retrieved 1 August 2013. 
  11. ^ a b "Sex grooming scandal inside a seaside town". The Times. 7 April 2011. Retrieved 1 August 2013. 
  12. ^ Hughes, Mark (16 October 2009). "Police errors mean girl's killer may never be found". The Independent. London. Retrieved 1 August 2013. 
  13. ^ "Mother of murdered girl tells of grief". Lancashire Telegraph. 25 May 2007. Retrieved 1 August 2013. 
  14. ^ "Police chief's worst fears over Charlene". Blackpool Gazette. 25 March 2003. Retrieved 1 August 2013. 
  15. ^ "Fears for teenager missing a year". BBC News. 29 October 2004. 
  16. ^ "Charlene received chilling letter". Blackpool Gazette. 27 June 2007. Retrieved 1 August 2013. 
  17. ^ "Mother of murdered girl ‘put into kebabs’ runs from court after gruesome testimony". Mail Online. 
  18. ^ Daily Mail, 7 April 2011. Police 'hid' abuse of 60 girls by Asian takeaway workers linked to murder of 14-year-old
  19. ^ Bradshaw, Charlotte (24 May 2007). "Schoolgirl 'murdered by shop owner'". Blackpool Citizen. 
  20. ^ "'Killer joked that he put schoolgirl lover in his kebabs'". Daily Mail. London. 24 May 2007. 
  21. ^ "Missing girl's body 'put into kebab'". The Telegraph. London. 24 May 2007. Retrieved 1 August 2013. 
  22. ^ "Charlene Downes murder detective forced to resign". BBC. 24 December 2011. Retrieved 1 August 2013. 
  23. ^ "Police 'hid' abuse of 60 girls by Asian takeaway workers linked to murder of 14-year-old". Daily Mail. London. 
  24. ^ Sam Chadderton (2011-06-21). "Blackburn man jailed for attack on girl". Lancashire Telegraph. 
  25. ^ "Charlene Downes murder detective 'should be reinstated'". BBC. 17 December 2012. Retrieved 1 August 2013. 
  26. ^ "‘Scapegoat’ murder detective to sue police". 
  27. ^ Battersby, Matilda (27 December 2011). "Independent Appeal: The project that could prevent another Charlene Downes from disappearing". The Independent. London. Retrieved 1 August 2013. 
  28. ^ Collins, Nick (7 April 2011). "60 girls groomed for sex at takeaway shops in Blackpool". The Daily Telegraph. London. Retrieved 1 August 2013. 
  29. ^ Sean Thomas (31 July 2013). "The Murder of Stephen Lawrence and the Strange Case of the Missing Wikipedia Entries". The Daily Telegraph. London. Archived from the original on 1 August 2013. 
  30. ^ [1]
  31. ^ "BBC One - Panorama, The Girl Who Vanished". BBC. 
  32. ^ "BBC News - Charlene Downes murder: Police offer 拢100k reward". BBC News. Retrieved 1 February 2015. 
  33. ^ "Charlene brother back in court". blackpoolgazette.co.uk. Retrieved 1 February 2015. 
  34. ^ "Charlene's sister attacked brother of murder accused". blackpoolgazette.co.uk. 
  35. ^ "Charlene Downes". blackpoolgazette.co.uk. Retrieved 1 February 2015. 
  36. ^ "Charlene’s mum attacked by daughter". blackpoolgazette.co.uk. Retrieved 1 February 2015. 
  37. ^ "Charlene mother attacked by web stalker". blackpoolgazette.co.uk. Retrieved 1 February 2015. 
  38. ^ "Man arrested over murder of Charlene Downes". Blackpool Gazette. 1 August 2017. Retrieved 1 August 2017. 
  39. ^ "Charlene Downes: Murder arrest in missing Blackpool girl probe". BBC News. 1 August 2017. Retrieved 1 August 2017. 
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