Charlene Downes murder police appeal 10 years after disappearance
Police investigating the murder of a Blackpool schoolgirl say they hope people who have never come forward might now have the confidence to do so.
Officers are renewing their appeal for information on the 10th anniversary of the disappearance of Charlene Downes.
They believe 14-year-old Charlene was one of a number of girls who were groomed for sex by men in the town.
Lancashire Police said others affected by abuse would now be adults and might be more willing to share information.
Police also hope the publicity surrounding recent “high profile” grooming cases will encourage new witnesses to speak to them.
Charlene’s body has never been found and no-one has been convicted of killing her.
At a retrial in 2008 a man was cleared of her murder, and another man was found not guilty of helping to dispose of the teenager’s body.
‘Brushed under carpet’
Charlene’s mother, Karen Downes, said: “I’m still as devastated as I was 10 years ago, and I still live in hope that one day she will be found.
“I will never give up until justice is done for her, and I’m very disappointed that nothing has been done by now.”
She added: “I want the police to do more, they have done nothing in the past five years since the case collapsed, they have just brushed it under the carpet or put it in a dusty cupboard somewhere.”
Justice for Charlene Downes
Police investigating the disappearance of a teenage girl allegedly ‘chopped up’ for kebab meat have been criticised for a catalogue of failures which led to the collapse of a murder retrial.
An independent review found that police surveillance techniques were ‘handled poorly and unprofessionally’ and as a result nobody is now likely to be convicted of killing Charlene Downes, 14, who was last seen in 2003.
Her mother today said she felt ‘badly let down’ after the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) recommended that seven officers should be disciplined over the matter.
Charlene was last seen on November 1, 2003 when she kissed her mother goodbye and went to see friends on Blackpool Promenade. Two men appeared at Preston Crown Court in 2007 in connection with her alleged murder but the jury was discharged after it failed to reach verdicts.
The prosecution claimed the murder suspect was overheard talking about having sex with the teenager and that she had ‘gone into kebabs’.
A retrial was scheduled to begin a year later but the Crown Prosecution eventually dropped the case because it had ‘grave doubts’ about the reliability of some of the evidence.
Iyad Albattikhi, 31, was formally cleared of Charlene’s murder and Mohammed Raveshi, 51, was acquitted of helping to dispose of her body.
Charlene’s mother, Karen Downes, of Blackpool, said she was ‘devastated’ at the findings of the police watchdog. ’We feel badly let down by the police and the Crown Prosecution Service,’ she said.
The inquiry was one of Lancashire’s longest-running investigations involving a child missing from home before detectives switched the focus to a murder hunt.
More than 3,000 people were spoken to by police and almost 2,500 statements were taken. No trace of Charlene has ever been found.
The prosecution in the 2007 trial alleged that Jordanian immigrant Mr Albattikhi, who owned Funny Boyz fast food shop in Blackpool, strangled the teenager after having sex with her.
The court heard Charlene was one of a number of young white girls who gravitated to the resort’s fast food shops to have sex with older men. Expelled from school, she spent her time hanging around the shops on the promenade.
Prosecutors claimed either Mr Albattikhi, known as Eddie, or his Iranian landlord and business partner, Mr Raveshi, was having underage sex with her and they would be in trouble if the police found out. Both men denied even knowing her.
Police started a murder inquiry when David Cassidy, a former friend of Mr Albattikhi, said the accused’s brother had told him the schoolgirl had been strangled and chopped up.
Detectives later bugged both Mr Raveshi’s home and car with secret listening devices and claimed the defendants could be heard on the tapes discussing her murder, with references to eating her body and a burial place.
Det Sgt Jan Beasant spent two years and around 2,500 hours listening to the contents of the tapes but such was the poor sound quality that much of the content was hard to decipher at the trial with sound experts and police disagreeing over what was actually said.
John Bromley-Davenport QC, defending Mr Raveshi, claimed Det Sgt Beasant was totally unqualified for the task of listening to the tapes and already knew a huge amount about the case.
Ian Goldrein QC, representing Mr Albattikhi, accused Mr Cassidy of telling a pack of lies and that his evidence was unreliable because he had a lengthy criminal record for dishonesty.
The jury of seven men and five women deliberated for 49 hours before they conceded they could not reach a verdict on either defendant.
On his release Mr Raveshi, who like Mr Albattikhi spent two-and-a-half years on remand in jail, said the case against him was ‘shameful’ and indicated he would sue police.
Charlene is still missing !
Missing Date: 01-Nov-2003
Age Now: 21
Height: 155 cm (5’1″)
Missing City: BLACKPOOL
Missing County : Lancashire
Hair Colour: Brown
Missing Country: United Kingdom
Eye Colour: Blue
Case Number: UK04L011103
Circumstances: Charlene was last seen by her family on 01.11.03, when she went to the North Pier at Blackpool. Charlene failed to return home and no trace of her has been seen since Last seen wearing a black jumper with white diamond pattern on, black jeans with gold eagles on the front,black boots.
Alleged killer jailed – June 2011
THE owner of a kebab shop linked by police to the disappearance of a schoolgirl has been jailed.
Jordanian Iyad Albattikhi, 34, was found guilty of assaulting another teenager who was involved in a drink and drugs night at the takeaway on Dickson Road, Blackpool.
Albattikhi who runs the Mr Beanz outlet – formerly known as Funnyboyz –was jailed for 20 weeks by magistrates.
He was told by presiding magistrate Mrs Eileen Oldroyd: “Your victim was vulnerable because of her age and stature and she was under the influence of drink and drugs.
“You headbutted her and then attempted to tamper with the CCTV.” “You also tried to degrade the victim in front of other people.”
During the trial it was revealed how the 18-year old-victim was a former girlfriend of the accused. She was lured into a lifestyle of drink and drugs she could not have afforded herself.
After a day out with Albattikhi she went back to his flat above the takeaway with others and there was a row. It ended with her trying to leave and Albattikhi assaulting her in the street outside.
The defendant was also made the subject of a two-year restraining order forbidding him to have any contact with his victim.
A victim’s statement was read to the court which said: “He is a horrible man. I don’t want to go into Blackpool in case I see him.
“He is so intimidating. I have had nightmares about him and cannot sleep properly.” Albattikhi’s lawyer Rachel Faux said her client would appeal against the jail term.
She told the court that since revocation of his late night licence income from the takeaway had slumped. She said her client had no previous convictions.
Albattikhi was charged in connection with the disappearance of schoolgirl Charlene Downes who has not been seen since 2003. She was then 13 years-old. Her body has never been found.
A judge at Preston Crown Court ended proceedings against Albattikhi and another man after the quality of police evidence in the murder case was called into question.
Albattikhi, who lives above the takeaway, pleaded not guilty to assault but was convicted by Blackpool Magistrates after a trial. He was then bailed for pre-sentence reports before being jailed. He had nothing to say.
At least 60 schoolgirls were groomed for sex by workers at seedy takeaways linked to the murder of a 14-year-old girl.
Children as young as 11 were targeted by mainly Asian staff at fast food outlets in Blackpool. They were offered food, alcohol and cigarettes in return for sexual favours.
An unpublicised police report produced after 14-year-old Charlene Downes vanished in 2003 found the girls, most if not all white, had been victims of the ‘honey pot’ premises.
There were claims last night that the report was suppressed for reasons of political correctness.