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 Lie hampered hunt for missing girl

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Dawnie
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PostSubject: Lie hampered hunt for missing girl   Mon Mar 30, 2009 4:51 am

Police hunting a missing teenager were thrown off the trail thanks to a lie from a police employee, a report claimed.

The
body of 17-year-old Natasha Coombs was found close to Manningtree
railway station on August 10, 2007 - two weeks after she was seen
boarding a train in nearby Ipswich, Suffolk.

Post-mortem tests showed she had been hit by a train after walking alongside train tracks.

An
inquiry was launched by the Independent Police Complaints Commission
(IPCC) after criticism from Natasha's father, insurance company manager
Gary Coombs.

Mr Coombs said delays in finding
his daughter's body contributed to his wife, 41-year-old Joanne,
committing suicide at the same spot two months later.

The
IPCC upheld four of his 11 complaints - and revealed the probe had been
hampered at an early stage by a British Transport Police (BTP)
communications officer.

The report said the
employee admitted misleading an Essex police officer into thinking that
trains were fitted with sensors that would have detected any collision.

This deflected the search for Natasha - despite intelligence that suggested "railway lines needed to be searched".

"The
communications officer admitted he lied to an Essex police officer,
initially telling IPCC officers that he did so to end the call, which
would allow him to get on with his job, and that he actually had no
knowledge of train sensors," the report said.

The employee resigned after being told he faced allegations of gross misconduct.

Further
failures to conduct "thorough and timely searches" by Essex Police and
the BTP were identified as contributing to a delay in finding Natasha's
body.

Essex Police was also criticised for
wrongly classifying Natasha as being at "medium risk" and for failures
in its early investigation.

A complaint that
"inappropriate, confidential and inaccurate information" was passed to
the media - allegedly from a police source - was also upheld.

IPCC
Commissioner David Petch said: "We conclude that the police did miss
opportunities for a timely and thorough search for Natasha Coombs."

Both forces involved in the investigation have apologised to the Coombs family.

Assistant
Chief Constable Derek Benson, of Essex Police, said: "Essex Police is
sorry for the delay in finding Natasha and accepts that mistakes were
made."

A BTP spokeswoman said: "BTP has
apologised to Mr Coombs for our failings in supporting Essex Police's
investigation into the disappearance of his daughter, Natasha, and the
subsequent death of his wife, Joanne."

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