THE family of a Hartlepool toddler who disappeared three decades ago have welcomed military police chiefs admitting failings in the original investigation – but insist more still needs to be done as their agony continues.
Richard Lee, dad of little Katrice Lee who went missing from a German military base in 1981, has now called for an independent inquiry after the admission, which town MP Iain Wright described as a “significant development”.
Katrice went missing from a British Army base supermarket in Paderborn, Germany, where her father was serving as a sergeant major, leaving her family devastated.
The youngster went missing on her second birthday on November 28, 1981.
Her family say they have suffered “decades of silence” and a catalogue of unfairness and errors, including the family being denied case notes by the Royal Military Police (RMP).
Mr Lee, 63, says he finally feels vindicated – but admits it is a double edged sword as the family still do not know what happened to their daughter.
The private meeting was held on Thursday between the family, defence minister Mark Francois and Provost Marshal Brigadier Bill Warren at which the government apologised and the RMP admitted failings in its initial inquiry.
Mr Lee, who is divorced from Katrice’s mother Sharon, didn’t attend but Sharon did along with Katrice’s sister, Natasha.
The family believe Katrice is still alive and was abducted.
Mr Lee, of Stockton Road, said: “It was stated in the meeting that the 1981 investigation was failed.
“That is a doubled edged sword for me.
“On one hand I’m pleased my family has been vindicated because we always believed the investigation was not carried out the way it should have been.
“We would not have put our family through 31 years of pain if we had any doubt but at the end of the day we want to know where Katrice is.
“This news is like getting half a Christmas present, we have got the wrapping paper but there is no present inside.
“I now want a totally independent review of exactly what happened in 1981.”
Mr Lee, who said it raises serious questions, thanked the minister for his compassion and for apologising for the way the family has been treated.
Mr Wright, who described it as a “very significant” development, added: “The reason I say that is for 31 years the Royal Military Police never acknowledged any failings in the investigation whatsoever.
“For them to acknowledge failings in the initial investigation vindicates what Mr Lee has said all the way along and calls into question the advice and information that has been given to ministers and the Prime Minister.”
Mr Wright called on the RMP to elaborate on the failings and use all available resources to find out what happened.
He added: “Mr Lee’s calls for an independent inquiry are strengthened.”
Retired postman Mr Lee appeared in the Hartlepool Mail last month after taking Katrice’s case to parliament and the case also featured on BBC’s Crimewatch programme.
The Lee family also took part in a march in a bid to get the original case files released for an independent review.
Mr Francois, minister for personnel welfare and veterans, has previously said Army investigators were doing everything they could to find out what happened and a re-investigation is underway.
The Ministry of Defence and the RMP declined to comment on the latest developments because they say was a private meeting.
A RMP spokeswoman added it would be inappropriate to comment until the Brigadier has written to the family following the meeting, held at Bulford Camp, near Salisbury.