A senior police officer has said there is always hope, but admitted the search for Sarah Benford is like finding a needle in a haystack.
Detective Chief Inspector Martin Kinchin was speaking today as officers carried out searches in the hunt for Sarah, who went missing 16 years ago in 2000.
This weekend would be her 30th birthday and DCI Kinchin said it was an ideal opportunity to reappeal for information about her disappearance and what has happened to her since her last sighting in Kettering town centre on April 6 that year.
DCI Kinchin said: “It’s an ideal opportunity to raise the profile of the case.
“It remains an unsolved case and we continue to work on it, but we have limited lines of inquiry with it because we have already done the major stuff on it.”
The Northamptonshire cold case team has been reviewing the information gathered throughout the investigation into Sarah’s disappearance.
As part of this review, officers have spoken to 20 people, including one man in Australia who had been living in Kettering at the time of Sarah’s disappearance but they had never spoken to him, and taken further statements and reports.
It is this work which has led to today’s searches in woodland near Warkton.
DCI Kinchin said they may find something related to Sarah or items dumped by people who were friends or associated with Sarah which could be valuable clues.
He is also hoping anyone who knows anything but was too scared to come forward at the time may decide they now want to help.
The officer said friendships or allegiances of people who knew Sarah 16 years ago may have changed or broken down, and someone could be willing to come forward with a vital piece of information about what has happened to Sarah.
Today’s searches were being carried out by the tactical support team, a regional team of officers for Leicestershire and Northamptonshire.
The police dogs may also be deployed at some point.
DCI Kinchin said: “We will be here as long as it takes.
“It is a systematic search of this area.”
Officers were clearing away plants and weeds lining the floor of the roped off wooded area and looking for any items or signs which could help them.
With regards to the outcome of these searches, DCI Kinchin said: “I have always got hope.”
But he said it is very hard to put yourself back to 2000 and added: “You don’t get many children of that age go missing and not come back.”
He said the recent Rotherham abuse scandal also brings a new perspective to the investigation.
He said: “Sarah had a complex life and being a troubled teenager, that really increased her vulnerability.
“When you look at what’s happened in Rotherham, people may have thought of her as streetwise but she was actually vulnerable.”
He said that as a vulnerable teenager who had gone missing before, Sarah was probably hanging around with other vulnerable people, and added: “We are looking for a needle in a haystack really.
“We are dependent on the public coming to us and suggesting areas which could help with the search.”
Since Sarah went missing, searches have been carried out in Kettering, Finedon and Wales.
But DCI Kinchin believes Kettering is where they will find out what happened.
He said: “Sarah was born in Kettering.
“Because of her age, she would have travelled around a bit but she was predominantly a Kettering girl.
“There is potential she could be in Northampton but the last sighting of her was in Kettering.
“The chances are she was in Kettering.”
Anyone with information can call the police on 101.
To read more about the investigation, click here