Disappearance of Charlene Downes
|Date of disappearance||1 November 2003|
|Place of disappearance||Blackpool, Lancashire, United Kingdom|
Charlene Downes (born 25 March 1989 - disappeared 1 November 2003) was a girl who lived in Blackpool, United Kingdom, her family moved there when she was 10 years old. She disappeared at aged 14 years old. Police initially treated the case as a one of a missing person, although their enquiries revealed she had probably been a victim of sexual abuse near the location where she was last seen. She is now believed to have been murdered. Downes was last sighted in an area later identified as at the centre of child grooming and sexual abuse of 60 underaged girls, mainly, it is alleged, by Asian men: a factor which later gave the case its political notoriety. In August 2007, 16 year old Paige Chivers, went missing in Blackpool in similar circumstances. Chivers, like Downes, is now believed to have become a murder victim.
A jury failed to reach a verdict in the trials of two men, one accused of murdering Downes and the other of disposing of her body. A re-trial ended with not guilty verdicts when the prosecution withdrew the charges. There have been no convictions in relation to the disappearance of Downes, or the disappearance of Chivers.
Background to disappearance
Downes was born on 25 March 1989, to Robert, a former soldier, and Karen. She had two sisters and a brother and they lived in Buchanan Street, Blackpool. The family had moved to Blackpool from the West Midlands in 1999. Downes was educated at St. George's High School, Blackpool. She was described in court as "well and happy" but had adopted a "chaotic" lifestyle after being expelled from school, frequenting the area around Blackpool's Central Promenade. According to an internal police report that somehow became public, Downes was one of 60 local underaged girls, some as young as 11, who had been groomed to carry out sex acts.
In the early evening of Saturday, 1 November 2003, 5 feet 1 inch tall Downes, who was aged 14 at the time, kissed her mother goodbye. Downes said she was going to meet friends on Blackpool Central Promenade where the town's amusement arcades are located. She was spotted last in in Abingdon Street and the back of Clifton Street. She is now believed to have died within hours of these sightings.
After the disappearance of Downes, a police report identified her as one victim of a widespread pattern of sexual abuse. Although the sexual abuse she was believed to have been subjected to had centred on certain fast food shops in the promenade area, which is where she was heading when last seen, police continued to consider her as a missing person rather that a murder victim for more than a year. 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, before police started to treat it as a murder, reportedly after information about the circumstances of her disappearance "leaked out" to the public.
Disappearance of Paige Chivers
On 23 August 2007, 16 year old Paige Chivers vanished after taking a bus into Blackpool town centre. Chivers was linked to the same business premises, believed to be the scene of grooming and sexual abuse, that were the focus of the enquiries into Downes's disappearance. Police also investigated the case of Chivers as a missing persons one for at least a year. In December 2009 a man was arrested on suspicion of murdering Chivers, and later released without any charges being brought. In 2012 police publicly announced the Chivers case was being treated as a murder inquiry, and that all leads in the case are exhausted.
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, 29, a Jordanian immigrant and owner of a food shop in Blackpool. His business partner and landlord, Mohammed Reveshi, 50, was accused of disposing of her body. According to the prosecution, the defendants had sex with Downes. The prosecution alleged the men spoke of disposing of her body by putting it in kebabs sold from a fast food outlet. The jury failed to reach a verdict, and at a re-trial the prosecution withdrew the charges. Both defendants were freed and given compensation for false arrest of around £250,000.  There has not been another prosecution.
After a critical report by the Independent Police Complaints Commission, one of the detectives involved was found guilty of misconduct by Lancashire Police and told to resign, but the Police Arbitration Tribunal overturned the decision.
The trial brought to public attention what the Guardian described as "endemic child sexual abuse". The 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". In a July 2013 blog post for the website of The Telegraph, journalist Sean Thomas noted that the original Charlene Downes article on the online encyclopaedia Wikipedia had been deleted. He claimed this had happened in a way which might indicate editorial bias as to "racialised" murders of white victims, which, supposedly, receive less media coverage in comparison to similar murders of black and ethnic minority victims.
- "Man cleared over Charlene murder". BBC. 9 April 2008. Retrieved 1 August 2013.
- "Beyond the pleasure beach". The Guardian. 30 May 2008. Retrieved 1 August 2013.
- "Charlene Downes". National Center for Missing & Exploited Children. Retrieved 1 August 2013.
- "Nightmare for Charlene's family". Blackpool Citizen. 17 August 2007. Retrieved 1 August 2013.
- "Heartbroken dad's ride for daughter's memorial". Blackpool Gazette. 28 August 2008. Retrieved 1 August 2013.
- "Mother of murdered girl 'put into kebabs' runs from court after gruesome testimony". Daily Mail. 21 May 2007. Retrieved 1 August 2013.
- "In a car in the dark alley, a man's arm reached out to caress a child". The Times. 7 April 2011. Retrieved 1 August 2013.
- "Memorial service to mark birthday". Blackpool Gazette. 24 March 2012. Retrieved 1 August 2013.
- "Schoolgirl 'murdered by shop owner'". Blackpool Citizen. 24 May 2007. Retrieved 1 August 2013.
- "Sex grooming scandal inside a seaside town". The Times. 7 April 2011. Retrieved 1 August 2013.
- "Police errors mean girl's killer may never be found". The Independent. 16 October 2009. Retrieved 1 August 2013.
- "Mother of murdered girl tells of grief". Lancashire Telegraph. 25 May 2007. Retrieved 1 August 2013.
- "Police chief's worst fears over Charlene". Blackpool Gazette. 25 March 2003. Retrieved 1 August 2013.
- "Fears for teenager missing a year". BBC. 29 October 2004. Retrieved 1 August 2013.
- "Charlene received chilling letter". Blackpool Gazette. 27 June 2007. Retrieved 1 August 2013.
- Mother of murdered girl ‘put into kebabs’ runs from court after gruesome testimony
- Daily Mail, 7 April 2011. Police 'hid' abuse of 60 girls by Asian takeaway workers linked to murder of 14-year-old
- Blackpool Gazette, 18 feb, 2012 Hunt for Paige now a murder inquiry
- Bradshaw, Charlotte (24 May 2007). "Schoolgirl 'murdered by shop owner'". Blackpool Citizen.
- "'Killer joked that he put schoolgirl lover in his kebabs'". Daily Mail.
- "Missing girl's body 'put into kebab'". The Telegraph. 24 May 2007. Retrieved 1 August 2013.
- "Charlene Downes murder detective forced to resign". BBC. 24 December 2011. Retrieved 1 August 2013.
- "Charlene Downes murder detective 'should be reinstated'". BBC. 17 December 2012. Retrieved 1 August 2013.
- "Independent Appeal: The project that could prevent another Charlene Downes from disappearing". 27 December 2011. Retrieved 1 August 2013.
- "60 girls groomed for sex at takeaway shops in Blackpool". 7 April 2011. Retrieved 1 August 2013.
- "The Murder of Stephen Lawrence and the Strange Case of the Missing Wikipedia Entries". 31 July 2013. Retrieved 1 August 2013.