MISS­ING GROOM­ING

Sunday Mirror - - SAIRAKHAN - BY Grace Ma­caskill and Joe cu­sack

IT is 15 years since her daugh­ter dis­ap­peared into the bright lights of Black­pool. And still Karen Downes waits.

Amid the tor­ment her life has be­come since that day, Karen’s ears are still con­stantly on alert for the one sound that could mend her bro­ken heart.

“I still stupidly hope for the day when Char­lene walks though the door, shout­ing ‘Mummy I’m home’,” she says. “I know I made mis­takes. She was 14 and way­ward. I should have spot­ted what was go­ing on.”

In the years since Char­lene van­ished on Novem­ber 1, 2003, Karen has faced a se­ries of ham­mer blows…

Her own guilt at feel­ing a fail­ure as a mother. A bizarre and shock­ing twist in her mar­riage that left her dumb­founded days after her daugh­ter had gone miss­ing.

A bun­gled po­lice in­ves­ti­ga­tion – and a ter­ri­fy­ing court case in which a jury heard Char­lene had been the vic­tim of a groom­ing gang in her home town and had been mur­dered, chopped up and served as ke­bab meat.

Only now does mum-of-four Karen, 53, feel she can tell her full story. From the start, she had to face a night­mare no mum of a miss­ing child should have to con­tend with.

Of­fi­cers searched the house and found hus­band Bob had a se­cret – and they took him to the sta­tion and asked if he’d mur­dered Char­lene be­cause of it.

SICK

“When foren­sics were search­ing the house they found coun­selling records for a woman called Martina Peters,” says Karen.

“As they ques­tioned Bob I searched our bed­room. As I rum­maged un­der his clothes I found a rolled bun­dle and knew in­stantly, from the cheap scratchy lace, what it was. I felt sick as I un­rolled a bur­gundy pair of pants, a black bra and tights. Hid­den in a T-shirt was red nail pol­ish.”

When her hus­band came home, Karen con­fronted him. “I asked him who Martina was and he said ‘It’s me, Karen.’ He had tears in his eyes and said he’d had coun­selling for trans­gen­der ten­den­cies for two years. He said the po­lice thought he might have killed Char­lene be­cause she caught him.

“I couldn’t take it all in. This was Bob who loved go­ing for a few pints, a strong fa­ther fig­ure. But with Char­lene miss­ing, it didn’t seem like the shock it should have been.

“And I knew he was no killer and was torn in two about his daugh­ter.”

As the months passed, Karen took to sleep­ing in Char­lene’s room, gaz­ing up at Pic­ture: PETER POW­ELL

WaY­WarD Char­lene at six with a cousin BouND BY GrieF Karen still with Bob de­spite the shock of his trans­gen­der se­cret HuNT sTill oN Re­ward poster for Char­lene. Below: Memo­rial plaque

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