murdered girl put in kebabs

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Girl’s body ‘put in mincing machine’Russell Jenkins The mother of a 14-year-old girl wept in court as a kebab shop owner was heard on tape allegedly telling how he had chopped up her daughter and placed her body, “bones and all”, in a mincing machine.

Karen Downes broke down in the public gallery as the gruesome conversation between the fast-food shop owner and another worker in Blackpool was played at the murder trial of Iyad Albattikhi.

Mrs Downes’s daughter, Charlene, “vanished off the face of the earth” three years ago after kissing her mother goodbye, Preston Crown Court was told.

No trace of her has been found since, the jury heard, leading police and her family to the “inescapable conclusion” that she is dead.

Charlene was known to have been among a number of young white girls who congregated around a district of Asian fast-food shops in the Lancashire seaside town.

The prosecution claims that Charlene was killed by Mr Albattikhi, 29, the owner of the Funny Boyz kebab shop, and that he had boasted of having sex with the teenager.

The tape recording, the prosecution suggests, is of a conversation between Mr Albattikhi and his business partner and co-accused, Mohammed Reveshi, 50, about how the girl’s body was disposed of after her murder.

On one tape, it is claimed, Mr Reveshi said: “Her big bones went into the machine as well, you know that, don’t you?” Mr Albattikhi replied: “Her bones? Did you . . . inside the machine?” “Yes,” Mr Reveshi said.

More than 52 tape recordings were captured by covert surveillance of Mr Reveshi’s home and car between February and March 2004 by the police inquiry team set up after Charlene disappeared in November 2003.

The jury was told that in one conversation Mr Reveshi had said to his partner: “Well, hopefully I [done] it properly you know . . . he thought he saw me cutting her body up.

“Do you remember she was bleeding to death?” “Yes,” replied Mr Albattikhi. “So that she made a mess,” Mr Reveshi allegedly added. Later in the transcript Mr Reveshi allegedly says: “The last one then, it was the last deep one and then it was the [heart] . . . that finally killed her.”

At one point Mr Reveshi said: “I’m so worried and you was the one who killed her.”

In his opening address to the jury last month, Tim Holroyde, for the prosecution, claimed that a witness had heard Jorda-nian-born Mr Albattikhi joke with fellow takeaway employees about how the teenager had been chopped up, and how her body “had gone into the kebabs”. Mr Albattikhi, of Blackpool, denies murdering Charlene while Mr Reveshi, also of Blackpool, denies disposing of her body.

Ian Goldrein, QC, for the defence of Mr Albattikhi, questioned the integrity of the tape recordings, which took Detective Sergeant Jan Beasant 2,400 hours to transcribe over a two-year period.

He said that neither of the transcripts read by the defendants’ lawyers included anything about bones, a mincing machine or blood.

The trial continues.

The jury hearing the trial of a takeaway boss accused of killing a schoolgirl and joking that her body had been put into kebabs has been discharged after it failed to reach a verdict.

Iyad Albattikhi, 30, owner of Funny Boyz fast food shop in Blackpool, Lancashire, was alleged at Preston Crown Court to have strangled 14-year-old Charlene Downes after having sex with her.

No trace of her body has been found since she vanished more than three years ago.

The jury also failed to reach a verdict on Albattikhi’s landlord and Iranian business partner Mohammed Reveshi, 50, who was accused of helping dispose of the girl’s body.

Both men denied all charges.

The court heard Charlene was one of a number of young white girls who went into the town to have sex with older men who worked in the fast food shops.

Charlene, from Buchanan Street in Blackpool, was “well and happy” but her home life was “chaotic”.

Expelled from school, she spent her time hanging around shops on the Blackpool Promenade, and was last seen on the early evening of Saturday November 1 2003. After kissing her mother goodbye she went off on her own – and vanished off the face of the Earth.

Albattikhi, known as Eddie, was alleged to have laughed that Charlene’s body had been minced up and “gone into the kebabs” after her disappearance.

After deliberating for just over 49 hours, the jury of seven men and five women told Mr Justice Henriques that it was “highly unlikely” that they would be able to reach a verdict.

R.I.P Charlene Downes

09 May 2008IPCC to manage investigation into collapse of Charlene Downes murder trialThe Independent Police Complaints Commission will manage an investigation into the reasons behind the collapse of the Charlene Downes murder trial.

Charlene Downes disappeared in Blackpool in November 2003. Two men stood trial for murder in May 2007 but a jury failed to reach a verdict. A retrial was ordered.

On 9 April 2008 the prosecution decided not to proceed with the case against the two defendants due to issues surrounding evidence. The two men were released subsequently from custody.

Lancashire Constabulary verbally referred the matter to the IPCC on 10 April 2008. The IPCC has now had an opportunity to undertake an assessment of the available information and has decided to manage Lancashire Constabulary’s internal investigation into the matter.

Mike Franklin, IPCC Commissioner for the North West, said: I expect the IPCC managed investigation to give answers to all those involved – the defendants, Lancashire Constabulary and Charlene’s family – as to why the trial could not proceed. The investigation will identify any lessons that can be learned. The IPCC is not reviewing the murder investigation as whole. That is a matter for Lancashire Constabulary.”

Beyond the pleasure beachBlackpool has a terrible secret: shockingly high levels of child sex abuse. Julie Bindel reports how the disappearance of a teenage girl revealed a dark side of the holiday resort
(6)Tweet this (5)Julie Bindel The Guardian, Friday 30 May 2008 Article history
The pier in Blackpool. Photograph: Christopher Thomond

On a mild November evening in 2003, 14-year-old Charlene Downes kissed her mum goodbye and walked with a friend to visit the Carousel bar on Blackpool’s North Pier. When she failed to come home by the following morning, police circulated her description. Charlene looked young for her age. Described by her mum as “a bubbly girl who likes a laugh, Westlife and fashion”, the girl shown on the missing poster had a cute child’s face framed by shiny dark brown hair. She would be 19 now, but although her body has not been discovered, police are convinced Charlene was murdered within hours of her disappearance.

Charlene was last seen in the town centre hanging around the alleyway that runs between the shops on Talbot Road and Clifton Street, which is full of fast-food takeaway outlets. During the search, more than 3,000 people were interviewed. Early on in the investigation, police became aware that Charlene, and a number of other girls, had been targeted by abusers active in the town. It emerged that the girls had been swapping sex for food, cigarettes and affection. Police are certain that Charlene was sexually abused by one or more men, over a period of time before she went missing, and that her death (they advised her parents in 2005 that they were convinced their daughter had been murdered) is linked to the abuse.

Last year, the trial of two men accused over Charlene’s murder was halted when the jury failed to reach a verdict. The subsequent retrial collapsed owing to concerns over a key prosecution witness. Both men were cleared of the charges. The case is still open.

In the search for Charlene, the police uncovered what was a barely hidden secret – endemic child sexual abuse and prostitution in the seaside town famous for its 1960s image of “kiss me quick” hats and sticks of rock. The Blackpool of childhood holidays past is still recognisable, but it has a dark underbelly of sexual exploitation. Before Charlene’s disappearance, this epidemic in Blackpool has been hidden, disguised by the party atmosphere and happy-looking kids with bucket and spades on the beach. “There have always been shocking levels of sexual abuse of children in this town,” says Sue McGurty, coordinator of Mothers of Sexually Abused Children (Mosac), “but before Charlene Downes went missing it was completely swept under the carpet.”

Seasonal employment in the town’s tourist industry and the large stock of low-cost, privately rented accommodation mean there is a constant flow of people moving into and out of Blackpool. Poverty levels are high: Blackpool is the 12th poorest area in the country. The number of children on Blackpool’s child protection register who are vulnerable to, or experiencing, sexual abuse is, at 16%, almost twice the national average, as is the number of children living in care homes or foster families. It is one of the only places in the country where girls do worse at school than boys. The suicide rate among the 15 to 19 age group in Blackpool is eight times higher than the UK average. Underage and unprotected sex is rife. HIV cases rose by 50% between 2001 and 2004; one in 12 girls is pregnant before the age of 18. A report published around the time of Charlene’s disappearance put this down to the resort’s “carnivalistic and hedonistic atmosphere”.

Children are attracted to the bright lights of Blackpool, so the town receives its fair share of runaways. And there are always plenty of sexual predators waiting for them to arrive, knowing they will be cold, hungry and homeless; probably already victims of abuse. On average, two more young children are found to be homeless in Blackpool every month.

There are approximately 800 convicted high-risk sex offenders living in Blackpool. Many choose to move there after their release from prison. “Why do so many child abusers want to live in Blackpool?” asks Wendy Shepherd from children’s charity Barnardos. “Alongside the increase in child sexual exploitation there is a marked increase in the sex industry in Blackpool, and sex tourism masquerading as stag weekends. Questions need to be asked about the links.”

Recently the Coalition for the Removal of Pimping (Crop), a child protection charity based in West Yorkshire, warned that Blackpool is becoming one of the hotspots where children and young people are sold for sex to older men.

“We know that young people from this area are being taken over to Blackpool,” said Aravinda Kosaraju, a researcher at Crop. “If you’re 13 or 14 and invited to come for a night out to a club in Blackpool, or have a holiday there, it may be hard to resist.”

There is some evidence that disproportionate numbers of men from migrant communities are involved in the abuse of girls. Opportunism is one possible explanation, according to a police officer who worked on missing children cases. “A number of them work illegally in the takeaways, which is where a lot of the vulnerable girls either work for pocket money, or hang out.”

The Awaken Project, a multi-agency initiative led by police and social services, was set up a year after Charlene disappeared, as a direct response to the case. There have been calls for the project to be extended to cover the whole of the UK, but so far, the government has been slow to respond, despite Awaken’s success. The team – which brings together professionals from licensing, social services, education and police – aims to root out and arrest the abusers before they do serious harm, and protect children from exploiters. Officers target what they call “honey pots”, likely to attract both children and offenders, such as takeaways, amusement arcades and the pier, which Charlene visited the night she vanished.

The Golden Mile between the North and Central Piers, which takes in the Promenade and the Winter Gardens, looks on the surface much as it did 30 years ago, but closer inspection reveals the difference. What used to be a B&B is now a massage parlour. Next to the shop where children buy their shoes for ballet class is a lap dance club. Further up the road is Twilight Babes, advertised as a “sauna”. The Lucky Star amusement arcade on the promenade is where John Goodfellow, a convicted child abuser, tried to entice a group of children back to his flat by giving them money to play on the slot machines. He was jailed for seven years in July 2005 for attempting to procure minors for sexual activity.

I visited Blackpool on the second anniversary of Charlene Downes’ disappearance, in November 2005. A photograph of her parents, Robert and Karen Downes, dominated the front page of a local paper, with a mockup of how Charlene might look aged 16. The headline read, “Clinging to Hope.” At that stage in the investigation, some hope remained.

“I can’t think the worst,” Karen Downes told me in a rundown pub near her central Blackpool home. “I just wouldn’t be able to carry on if I did.” Downes had a nervous, almost child-like manner, and constantly twisted her hands together as she spoke. Her round, cherubic face crumpled with grief. She apologised, and struggled to continue.

Charlene was from a loving family, but, as social services noted prior to her going missing, a chaotic one. At the time that Charlene disappeared, a homeless man whom a family member had invited to stay was revealed to be a sex offender against young children. The area where the Downes live houses high numbers of people on benefits, with several boarded-up houses, few amenities, and high levels of street crime.

The story Downes told was a familiar one. Her daughter “fell in with the wrong crowd”, whom she banned from the house. Eventually, Charlene was excluded from school for truanting. “When she was 13 she started going off the rails. I don’t know why.”

The week she went missing, all seemed as normal. “Charlene was in watching her Darren Day videos as usual. Only days after she went missing she was due back to the school to discuss going back.” Darren Day, Charlene’s favourite West End performer, even made a plea for help in finding her.

It was not the first time Charlene had been missing. When she was 12, she did not come home for four days. “It turned out she was staying with her friend and had not told me,” said Downes. “When she went missing this time around, I think the police thought she’d done that again.”

Paul Phillpott, a detective inspector in Blackpool police and coordinator of the Awaken Project, explained how abusers target their prey. “The common scenario is a young person being befriended by a significantly older male, groomed with small gifts, free food, small amounts of money. They give the young person lots of attention and affection and when they feel they can get away with it they sexually assault the young person, making them feel complicit in their own abuse.” Those targeted are often 13- to 14-year-olds persuaded into sex in exchange for clothes, cheap jewellery or money. “It is more subtle than how most people think of child prostitution,” said Phillpot.

“I found out,” said Downes, “that Charlene was getting chips for a blow job. How can those bastards do that to kids?”

I met Downes again, just after the trial collapsed. She was inconsolable, and talked nonstop about her daughter, and about how much she missed her. “My daughter was a beautiful, clever girl. Good at English and maths. She liked nothing better than taking me and her nana shopping,” said Downes. “She used to say, ‘When I get older, I’m going to buy a car and take you both out every day.'”

Downes is angry that her daughter’s death has barely been noted outside Blackpool, and that her case has warranted far less attention than those of other missing children. “I could not understand why the police did not put out information about Charlene on TV, and why only the local paper was interested in her disappearance,” said Downes. “I often wonder, if she had been from a posh family, and was having piano lessons, would they have tried harder to find her?”

The lives of the Downes family are in limbo. A week after the trial collapsed, Downes was arrested for stabbing her husband, Robert, during an argument, causing minor flesh wounds. Robert does not wish to press charges, as he understands that his wife lashed out in desperation, crazed with grief and distress. “What people don’t seem to understand,” Downes told me, “is that not knowing where Charlene is feels almost worse than knowing she is dead”.

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