Minister’s pledge to Katrice’s family

Richard and Katrice Lee. Below, Defence Minister Mark Francois, and  Richard Lee (left) and Iain Wright MP outside the Houses of Parliament

Richard and Katrice Lee. Below, Defence Minister Mark Francois, and Richard Lee (left) and Iain Wright MP outside the Houses of Parliament

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A GOVERNMENT minister has vowed to do “everything possible” to relieve the “unbearable burden” the family of missing Katrice Lee have suffered for the last three decades.

Defence Minister Mark Francois was responding to tough questions on the handling of the case on behalf of Katrice’s dad Richard Lee.

Katrice went missing from a British Army base in Paderborn, Germany, on her second birthday in 1981.

For the last 31 years, her family have been left with unanswered questions after seeing a series of investigations come to nothing.

The investigation is now back in the spotlight after the intervention of Hartlepool MP Iain Wright, and Caroline Dineage, the MP for Gosport where Katrice’s mum Sharon and sister Natasha are now based.

In the House of Commons yesterday, Mr Lee watched on as Mr Francois revealed that an investigation was now being led by the Army’s Provost Marshal Brigadier Bill Warren, using the very latest technology alongside experts from the Serious Organised Crime unit and the FBI.

He also revealed how a previous investigation in 2000 saw the arrest and questioning of a former soldier, but no further action was taken and it concluded in 2003 due to a “lack of evidence”.

The latest investigation – Operation Bute – is using the latest in DNA profiling and also involves reinterviewing a staggering 2,000 people who visited the same supermarket used by Katrice’s family in Germany on the day she vanished.

Immediately after her disappearance, MPs took control of the search along with civilians and military police, but the youngster was never found.

The family was told she had probably drowned, but they refused to accept that and were convinced something else had led to her disappearance.

Mr Wright slammed the initial investigation, and has called for an independent inquiry into the Royal Military Police’s handling of the case and what he described as a “cover up of the facts”.

He also slammed the Prime Minister David Cameron’s refusal to meet with Katrice’s dad, claiming he was “too busy”.

His calls were echoed by Mrs Dineage, who said the family’s horror had been cruelly compounded by the investigation of the RMP and added the Army had let down a British soldier when he was “most in need of their support”.

Mr Francois assured the family the investigation was very much “alive” and that “every effort” was being made to find out the “truth about what happened to Katrice”.

However, Mr Francois added because the investigation was still active, it would be inappropriate at this stage to release any case files as it could prejudice the inquiry.

He added: “There will be no attempt to cover up any past failings and the Army would be open about any failings when the time was right to release that information.”

He also went on to offer the family an invitation to travel to Army HQ in Beauford to visit the Provost Marshal to find out first hand from him what was happening with the investigation.

He added: “This is a tragic case that has gone on for 30 years.

“The MPs have done exactly the right thing in bringing this to the house, and I will do everything I can to try and help the family in relieving this unbearable burden they have suffered for the last three decades.”

Despite the pledge made by the minister, Katrice’s dad was far from happy with what he heard in the House of Commons.

Speaking after the hearing, Mr Lee said: “I feel as if I have achieved the square route of nil.

“They want to meet on their terms and their rules. I’m absolutely gutted, but I’m not going away.

“They have already lost the family’s trust. What good is it going to do to put the family back with the people they resent?

“They still haven’t made a public admission that they cocked up. I’m infuriated and disgusted with what I heard.”

Mr Wright, meanwhile, has vowed to continue the fight on behalf of Katrice’s family and hopes Mr Lee will sit down with Army bosses to discuss the issue in due course.

He said: “I hope I got the point across.

“I would hope Mr Lee takes up the offer. I hope we can sit down together and continue.”

● MORE reaction from the House of Commons in Saturday’s Mail.