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Nayantara Ali – London – 1994

11-year-old girl disappeared on her way to school and was later found dead rolled up in a green sheet 20 yards from her home having been sexually molested.

Nobody has ever been convicted of this murder

The last person to hold and stroke Nayantara Ali, 11, before she disappeared, was her grandmother.

On Friday 4 November, they woke together (they shared the same bedroom), had a glass of milk, then sat in the front room, as the elder woman brushed and oiled Nayan’s long thick hair.

At 8.15am, Nayan did as she always did: said goodbye and left the house for school. But this time the daily ritual broke down: she never came back.

Some time, at some place along the short route to school, Nayan “disappeared”.

Nobody noticed until 4pm. Then Nayan’s grandmother and two aunts became restless: their little girl was five minutes late.

At 4.10pm, her uncle Aleem Malik, 28, a student at East London University, arrived home. When he heard that his beloved niece had not returned, he burst into tears.

The family contacted the school. Nayan hadn’t been in.

Frantic, Mr Malik called the police. “They never came,” he recalls. At 6pm, he dialled 999 again. Still nothing.

Then at 7.30pm, nearly three hours after the first telephone call, two officers appeared on the doorstep. “Did you force her to wear Asian clothes?” they asked in the interview. “Did you have any plans to send her back to Pakistan against her will? Had an arranged marriage been set up for her?”

“The police decided that this was a family thing – another Asian girl rebelling against her family,” says Mr Malik. “I kept telling them `Nayan has been abducted’, but they didn’t take me seriously.”

The weekend passed. Terrible visions of Nayan, her “sexually assaulted body just thrown away”, left Mr Malik red-eyed and exhausted with crying.

All the next day and most of the night he and his cousins searched – under bushes, around shopping centres, at a nearby circus.

Meanwhile, Mr Malik says, the police “just scouted around”.

Then nearly four weeks after her disappearance, the message came. A body had been found under an arch 20 yards from the home. It was a girl – a naked girl in a green sheet.

The girl had a long plait of oiled, dark hair.

She had been sexually assaulted. Her face was battered.

Nayan’s mother ran out on to the street. “Nayan where are you? Nayan where are you?” she screamed.

She collapsed, pulled herself up.

A few steps, then no more.

She lay on the ground, the gravel pricking.

Detective Superintendant Douglas Harvey, from North East London’s Major Investigation Pool, says he is satisfied that his police team did their best to find Nayantara Ali. “I treated Nayan’s disappearance as a potential murder from the day I was put on to the case,” he says. “I just didn’t tell the family. I didn’t want to upset them.”

The resources assigned to the investigation were equal to any other major incident, he says: 50 temporary staff and 12 CID officers in the first week and 12 officers thereafter. “I admit that more CID officers would have been useful. But in the London area there is always a shortage.”

Acres of open space were searched, he says, and more than 300 people interviewed in the first three weeks. Different “lines” were also pursued with vigour.

“Mr Malik’s complaints were without foundation,” the detective superintendant insists. “He wanted us to find his niece. We didn’t. He is upset. That is understandable.”

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