Could new images be key to cracking Charlene case?

These images captured on the day Blackpool teenager Charlene Downes vanished could hold the key to tracing her final steps.

It is 13 years to the day since 14-year-old Charlene went missing with police as determined as ever to bring her killer or killers to justice.

CCTV footage of Charlene Downes in Blackpool Town centre from November 2003

CCTV footage of Charlene Downes in Blackpool Town centre from November 2003

And detectives carrying out a fresh investigation into the teenager’s disappearance and murder believe footage captured earlier in the day may prove crucial.

The pictures, which have been released for the first time, show Charlene with her sister Rebecca on Bank Hey Street in Blackpool town centre at 3.25pm on the afternoon of Saturday, November 1 2003.

The pair are walking towards the Coral Island amusement arcade.

Shortly after the images were captured Charlene returned home but then went back out into Blackpool town centre later that evening, never to be seen again.

The clothes she is wearing in the newly-released footage are the same as when she vanished.

And detectives believe that by studying the footage, discovered as part of review of CCTV collected by the original investigation team, they may be able to identify Charlene at other key locations and times.

Det Chief Insp Richard McCutcheon said: “The CCTV is one important angle of our investigation.

“Our task has been to look again at the evidence gathered in the investigation.

“This footage is from earlier in the day, Charlene went home after it was captured before going back out.

“But it can clearly be identified as Charlene.

“She is wearing the same clothes as she was wearing when she disappeared.

“We can use it as a reference when looking at other CCTV – looking at her gait, clothes, height and build.

“There’s a very distinctive pattern on her jeans.

“We know that is what she is wearing when she went back out.

“As a result we may be able to positively identify Charlene in other CCTV footage and piece together her final movements before she 
disappeared.”

Despite a lengthy and complex investigation, numerous media appeals and a £100,000 reward on offer for information leading to the conviction of her killer or killers or the recovery of Charlene’s body, nobody has ever been brought to justice.

A dedicated team of detectives continue to work on what is one of Lancashire Police’s longest-running 
enquiries.

Their remit has now been expanded to examine both the disappearance and murder and the wider issue of child sexual exploitation in Blackpool.

So far the inquiry has generated more than 12,000 police actions or lines of inquiry and officers have taken more than 5,380 witness statements.

And, says DCI McCutcheon, the inquiry continues to grow in scale.

He said: “These two very important investigations go hand in hand.

“We are talking to people who knew Charlene and they might give us two or three other people to speak to and it continues to grow from there.

“When there is an allegation made it gives us another point to work out from.”

DCI McCutcheon made it clear nothing has come to light, as yet, linking the Charlene inquiry to high-profile child sexual exploitation inquiries in Rochdale and Rotherham.

But officers do not yet have a clear picture of what was happening in Blackpool at the time of Charlene’s disappearance.

He said: “There are no links that we are aware of to Rotherham or Rochdale.

“But we have been to see and spoken to the teams involved in those enquiries to see if there are lessons we can learn and apply here.

“We don’t yet know the scale of things in Blackpool, it’s too early really to talk about that.

“But what we have learned so far gives us an idea of what was happening, how individuals were involved in child sexual exploitation.

“It is a growing inquiry; we have a dedicated team and we are looking to expand that team.

A £100,000 reward for information – put up by Clive Grunshaw, Lancashire’s Police and Crime Commissioner – remains in place as detectives continue to probe Charlene’s disappearance

And, on the 13th anniversary of that dark day Detective Superintendent Andy Webster, senior investigating officer, is hoping somebody’s memory might be jogged.

He said: “I have always been convinced that there are people who know what happened to Charlene but have not yet come forward to speak to the police.

“You may have been present when she was murdered or may simply have information about how she was killed and what happened to her body. For whatever reasons, you may have chosen not to speak out previously, and I can understand that, but as we seek to find out what happened your information could be vital to take the case forward.

“If anyone is reluctant to speak to us for fear of reprisals I would reassure them that every measure is taken to ensure their safety. Also, if you are afraid you could incriminate yourself, let me reassure you that our main objective is to find Charlene’s killer or killers. We have a team of detectives and staff dedicated solely to this investigation.”

And he made clear arrests would continue to be made as a result of the wider focus of the Blackpool-based team.

In June, detectives working on the Charlene Downes inquiry arrested two men on suspicion of historic sex offences.

Kashif Gul, 39, of Foxhall Road, Blackpool, is charged with rape, attempted rape, gross indecency with a child and indecency with a child.

A 50-year-old man from Blackpool, arrested on suspicion of indecent assault and taking indecent images of a child, was bailed but is now wanted after failing to answer his bail.

The offences were allegedly committed in the early 2000s and relate to two girls aged 14 or 15 at the time. There is no suggestion of a direct link to Charlene.

Det Supt Webster said: “As part of our inquiries we are also focussing on the wider issue of child sexual exploitation in Blackpool at around the time of Charlene’s disappearance and we have identified a number of people who could potentially be victims and offenders and we will be seeking to make arrests and to prosecute abusers in the near future.

“I would appeal to anyone who may have been a victim of abuse to come forward and contact us. If you have been a victim of sexual abuse we are here to help and support you as well as to bring offenders to justice.”

Lancashire’s Police and Crime Commissioner, Clive Grunshaw, added: “For 13 years, Charlene’s family has had to endure not knowing what has happened to her, but I remain committed to doing what I can in supporting Lancashire Constabulary to secure justice for them and Charlene.

“The substantial reward I have put up for information about her disappearance remains in place and I hope this will lead to someone coming forward.

“Although a lot of time has passed the clear commitment from my office and Lancashire Constabulary remains, we will leave no stone unturned in the hunt for her killers and bringing them to justice.”

Anyone with information is asked to call 101 quoting log number LC-20161031-0381 or Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111 or online at crimestoppers.org or email: charlenedownesinvestigation@lancashire.pnn.police.uk.

For further information see: lancashire.police.uk/campaigns/Charlene