The father of Katrice Lee who vanished in Germany on her second birthday 37 years ago hopes to be finally reunited with her in 2019.
Richie Lee, 69, from Hartlepool, reflected on a year which saw Katrice’s case make international headlines when a riverbank close to where she disappeared was dug up by investigators in the summer.
Over the next year, he intends to step up the appeal so that awareness of her case goes global in his determination to find out what happened to her.
Katrice disappeared on November 28, 1981, from a NAAFI store in Paderborn, Germany, where Richie was serving with the British Army at the time.
Richie, of Belle Vue, also reflected on another Christmas without his daughter and the pain of having one empty chair at the table again.
He said: “As Christmas drew closer, for me the feeling of dread overwhelms me, again I will have an empty chair round the table, where Katrice should be sat, I long for the day I have an answer.”
Richie, also dad to Natasha, revealed he has not celebrated Christmas since that fateful day.
“I made a promise that I would not celebrate Christmas until such time as Katrice is back in the family and I have stuck to that,” he said.
On Christmas Day, Richie visits his parents and sister’s graves, speaks to friends on the phone to thank them for their support over the year, and spends time with his partner and extended family.
He said: “The difference comes when I come back from that.
“I come home and sit and reflect on the year gone by and what I can do in the future to get answers.”
Returning to Germany in the summer was ‘like stepping back into a nightmare’ he said.
No trace of Katrice was found lending weight to the family’s belief that she was stolen to be a surrogate child for another family.
Richie said: “If I was looking down a tunnel the light might not be bigger, but by God it’s brighter and it gives me that little bit of strength to go on.”
The case attracted national and international media attention, but Richie is still angry that it took 37 years to get key information to the public.
He said: “She is now in the bracket with Maddie McCann and Ben Needham, and that to me is sad that it has taken from 1981 to now.
“In 1981, nobody knew. The correct information was not there.
“We are now as far spread as Australia and New Zealand; it’s absolutely brilliant.
“However, it’s not global, and that’s my aim.
“I know Natasha has a sister and she deserves answers as does my family.”
Next year is also significant for Katrice’s family as it would be her 40th birthday.
“Hopefully, I am reunited before then,” said Richie.
In the last year, Richie, supported by Hartlepool’s MP Mike Hill, has had meetings with Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson, in their bid to keep pressure on the Royal Military Police which is investigating the case.
He has also recently engaged a top lawyer, John Cooper QC, to represent the family’s interests.
* Anyone with information about what might have happened to Karice is asked to contact Operation BUTE via the hotline number 0800 616888 or @operationbute by private message on Facebook or Twitter. People can also email: SIBRMP-OpBute-Mailbox@mod.uk