Disappeared presumed dead, Charlene in 2003 and Paige in 2007
Charlene Downes (14) disappeared in 2003 and is presumed dead. Paige Chivers (15) went missing in 2007 and is also presumed dead.
The two girls were linked to alleged sexual grooming and exploitation focussed upon fast food outlets in Blackpool. Following Charlene Downes’ disappearance in 2003, police found more than 60 girls were being groomed for sex around 11 Blackpool takeaways. They were mainly aged between 13 and 15, but some were as young as 11. It is alleged the children involved were offered food, alcohol and cigarettes in return for sexual activity.
Two restaurant owners were acquitted of Charlene Downes’ murder in 2007 and the crime remains unsolved. A jury failed to reach a verdict on charges that Iyad Albattikhi, a Jordanian, had murdered Charlene Downes while his landlord Mohammed Reveshi, an Iranian, had disposed of her body. A retrial collapsed in 2008 amid failings in the police investigation and the men were paid almost £250,000 each in compensation. The defence had successfully questioned the integrity of the recorded evidence and the accuracy of the transcription.
Claims were made in court that takeaway staff had joked that Charlene’s remains had “gone into the kebabs”. Recordings, later discredited, were alleged to reveal the accused talking about the disposal of the body. In 2012, the kebab shop, now renamed, was refused a hot food licence amid reports of continued ‘sexual activity’ linked to the premises, but the applicants reportedly blamed a police vendetta and appealed. FOD could find no reports as to whether that appeal was successful.
There have been allegations that a police report produced after Charlene Downes vanished in 2003 was suppressed, because of the racial mix of alleged abusers, most of whom were asian or middle eastern in origin, and victims, most of whom were white. Lancashire Police denied a cover up, saying the report had been available online since 2007 but had never been intended for publication. Assistant Chief Constable Andy Rhodes said his officers were making significant progress in tackling child sex exploitation across Lancashire, regardless of the background of the culprits. However, former Detective Superintendent Mick Gradwell warned that research into the problem was being hampered by “concerns about upsetting community cohesion”.
Paige Chivers disappeared from her home in Longford Avenue, Bispham, Lancashire on 23rd August 2007 after a family argument. She packed a suitcase before she left. She was a former student at Montgomery High School.
Four people have previously been arrested on suspicion of Paige’s murder but all have been released without charge. Police in Lancashire have said they are committed to finding her killer. Detective Superintendent Dermott Horrigan, who is leading the investigation, said the police had “exhausted potential leads” for Paige, who would now be 20. He said it was never too late for people to come forward with new information, adding: “We remain committed to finding out the truth about what has happened to Paige.”
Paige was due to inherit a substantial amount of money on her 18th birthday following the death of her mother, police said.
Two years after her disappearance a 51-year-old man was arrested in Blackpool and was questioned about the disappearance. At that time, Detective Chief Inspector Mark Rothwell, from Lancashire Police’s major investigation team, was in charge of the investigation. He said then “Paige’s family continue to live with the daily anguish of not knowing what has happened to her and this month will face their third Christmas without her….We continue to keep an open mind and look for evidence as to what has happened to Paige.”
At the time she disappeared, her father, Chris, said: “I know that we had cross words before she left but I’m sure we can sort things out.” Detective Superintendent Kevin Toole said: “Paige has been described to us as a ‘streetwise’ girl, but nevertheless she is only 15 and we need her to contact us or her father to say that she is safe and well.
Note: This report was drawn from reports in the BBC and in the Daily Mail.