VICTIM’S MUM ON 15 YEARS OF HELL I still stupidly hope my girl will walk in shouting, Mummy I’m home
her Darren Day posters and smelling her on the sheets. “I kept thinking she’d be home any day,” she says. But in March 2006, police told a stunned Karen and Bob, 57, they believed Charlene was dead. In May 2007, Jordanian kebab shop owner Iyad Albattikhi stood trial for her murder alongside Iranian Mohammed Reveshi, who was accused of helping dispose of Charlene’s body. But the jury failed to reach a verdict. And a retrial was dropped the next year when police evidence was found to be built on hearsay and a transcript of lowquality recordings from bugs in a suspect’s car and flat. Both men later got around £250,000 each in compensation.
The worst moment for Karen was when the court was told her daughter had been butchered and served to kebab shop customers.
“I ran out and threw up in the toilet” she says.
But there was more agony to come. The court had heard allegations that Charlene swapped sex for bags of chips after being groomed by a gang of mainly Asian men.
She’d made 13 walk-in visits to a sex health clinic in the two years before she vanished.
Karen says: “I didn’t recognise this girl. Where was my baby who used to hold her mummy’s hand?
“I had tried my best. I’d signed up on a parenting course and challenged Charlene when she turned up with a fiver here or there. But she stopped talking to me.”
After the trial collapsed, Bob turned to drink. In one row Karen attacked him with a potato knife. But they remained together, united in grief.
Desperate for closure, Karen organised a memorial service for Charlene in September 2008.
A few months later an Independent Police Complaints Commission inquiry found the Lancashire Police investigation had been “handled unprofessionally”. Two officers were disciplined. One was later cleared. Karen says: “It felt everything was against us. Madeleine McCann was in the papers. I felt sorry for her family, but also resentful. Her parents were educated, influential – everything I wasn’t. Charlene was a wayward teen, but that doesn’t mean she didn’t matter. Bob was even beaten up by locals who thought we were involved.”
In 2012, Karen set up a website called Justice for Charlene. Two years later police offered a £100,000 reward for information to solve the case.
Meanwhile, Karen has written a book on the search and she and Bob are still together, searching for answers. He says: “I loved Karen so much, but I felt guilty when we got married as I knew there was a third person inside me.” Bob stopped cross dressing after Charlene vanished but has now returned to it. “I can’t help it. The female side of me is strong.” Charlene’s siblings now have children and the couple relish being grandparents. “They’ve helped us move on a little,” says Karen. “But I still live in hope.”
Det Chief Insp Richard McCutcheon of Lancashire Police said: “We are committed to finding Charlene and her killer. We continue to focus on child sex exploitation.”
A police spokesman added that a man, 53, arrested in August 2017 on suspicion of Charlene’s murder but, released pending further enquiries still remains under investigation.
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