Specialist sniffer dogs brought in as Kettering search for Sarah Benford continues

They're able to smell the signs of human remains

Thursday, 18th November 2021, 3:05 pm
Updated Friday, 19th November 2021, 1:00 pm
The dogs at the scene earlier today.

Specialist sniffer dogs have been brought in as police continue to search the Kettering site where they believe Sarah Benford is buried.

Victim recovery dogs, who are able to smell human remains, began searching a small area of the 70m by 70m piece of land near Valley Walk today (Thursday).

The site has been taped off since a huge two-week police operation began on Monday after detectives received a tip-off that Sarah, who went missing in 2000 aged 14, was buried there.

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A number of anomalies - areas of land different to those around it which could suggest movement - have been mapped out. So far six have been dug up, about half of those mapped out, but nothing significant has been found.

Detective Superintendent Joe Banfield, who is leading the operation, said they have found rubble, building materials and rubbish dating back to the 1970s but nothing linked to their investigation.

He told this newspaper: "We've been systematically going through the areas of anomaly and we've learnt a lot about the soil structure here.

"We've understood six of the areas of anomaly that do not, sadly, contain the remains we are looking for.

The area remains cordoned off

"We are just pressing on with those areas of anomaly. We are using specialist search dogs, who are able to smell the signs of human remains, to go through some of the areas."

Areas of vegetation and top layers of soil are now being removed on specific areas where a probe will be put down, effectively digging a small hole as a vent to allow odours to come to the surface.

Officers will then be running forensic dogs over each area to see if they indicate anything could be below the surface.

Det Supt Banfield previously told this newspaper that they expected to find Sarah's body and today he said he remains hopeful.

Forensics experts bag up something they've found. Picture by Andrew Carpenter

He said: "I'm really hopeful that we'll find her in here.

"That's why we're here, that's why we're going to spend some extra time after we've searched the specific areas of anomaly.

"Once we leave here I want to be as sure as I possibly can be that we've located her or that we've looked everywhere and sadly haven't."

The investigation into the Kettering girl's disappearance, the force's biggest ever cold case, began after she went missing from Northampton children's home Welford House on April 6, 2000. It was upgraded to a murder inquiry in 2003.

Sarah, pictured at primary school

She was failed by the authorities who failed to see her as a victim of exploitation by drug dealers and sex offenders. A serious case review concluded in 2004 found the county council’s children’s services department was understaffed and that Sarah was not assessed as she should have been. On the day she went missing she called her mum Vicki from a house in Kettering, high on drugs, but police refused her mum's frantic plea for them to pick her up and take her back to the children's home.

Despite more than 5,000 lines of enquiry, numerous searches and eight arrests, nobody has been brought to justice over Sarah's disappearance or murder.

Police received information that Sarah was buried near Valley Walk from a 'credible' source earlier this year, leading to them planning the new operation over many months.

Today Det Supt Banfield again said he could not be drawn on the source to avoid identifying them but said police don't believe they were involved in Sarah's killing.

He said: "We do due diligence on any information that we get in and, as far as I can be, I am satisfied that that person that the information has come from is not a suspect."

Officers have had a number of calls from people since their operation began this week, with many coming to the site to show them old pictures of how it looked, but they've received no information that's led them to look at anywhere new.

Several channels are being dug during the search. Picture by Andrew Carpenter

Det Supt Banfield urged anyone with information which may help their inquiry to call police or Crimestoppers or visit officers at the scene.

Northamptonshire Police has set up an incident number for anyone with information relating to Sarah’s disappearance, who should call 101. The incident number is 359 of 10/11/2021.

The scale of the search. Picture by Andrew Carpenter
Det Supt Joe Banfield