`

Top lawyer to act for family in quest for answers into daughter's disappearance

Richie Lee
Richie Lee

The father of a girl who has been missing for 37 years has taken on a top lawyer to act on the family's behalf in their campaign for answers and justice.

Richie Lee, of Hartlepool, was stationed in Germany with the British Army, when his daughter Katrice Lee vanished on her second birthday on November 28, 1981

An investigation into what happened to her is being led by the Royal Military Police called Operation Bute and included the digging up of a river bank in Germany in the summer which did not find any new evidence.

In recent months, Richie has been critical of investigators' handling of the case citing a lack of communication with the family and not being given access to case files he says he was promised.

On Tuesday, Richie met with barrister John Cooper QC in London who has agreed to represent the family's interests.

Mr Cooper has significant experience in criminal and human rights cases including representing two families in the high profile inquests into young soldiers' deaths at Deepcut Barracks.

Katrice as she might look today aged 38

Katrice as she might look today aged 38

Richie, who has previously called for a public inquiry into the whole investigation, said he is unable to go into the specifics of what action could follow, but said he felt the need to engage Mr Cooper as he believes the Royal Military Police wish to close the investigation into Katrice and believes the case is 'floundering'.

He told the Mail today: "John Cooper QC has been engaged on behalf of the family. I can't say anything more as his investigations are at a sensitive stage.

"I feel it is a massive step forward, without a shadow of a doubt."

Outlining what led up to the action, Richie, who is also dad to Natasha, added: "Essentially why I've done it is I felt at the meeting with the Secretary of State [Gavin Williamson] I got the distinct impression the Royal Military Police were trying to close the case down.

John Cooper QC

John Cooper QC

"I have always felt Katrice has never had the full backing and might of the police at the time. She's never had a fair crack of the whip.

"I feel the case itself is floundering. I have engaged him because I want justice for Katrice. I felt I had to go that route because a public inquiry was looking more and more distant."

Read more: Police rule out riverbank in search for Katrice Lee

Richie was introduced to Mr Cooper QC through Hartlepool MP Mike Hill, who was also at the meeting.

Katrice Lee shortly before she went missing

Katrice Lee shortly before she went missing

Mr Hill said: "Katrice Lee will be 40 years old next year and we need fresh impetus on this 37-year-old missing person case.

"My constituent Richard Lee has been living a nightmare for all those years and I am so pleased that I was able to organise a meeting between Richard and John Cooper QC, a highly respected barrister involved in the Deepcut Barracks enquiry.

"It’s fantastic news that John has agreed to pursue the case. There is a lot to be done still in the search for Katrice, but this is positive and welcome news."

Katrice's family have always believed that she was taken to be a surrogate child for a family and has grown up unaware of who she really is.

She disappeared from a a NAAFI supermarket near a British Army barracks. Her family have campaigned tirelessly to raise awareness of the case, including her 'lazy' left eye that would have needed two operations to correct, and also to keep pressure on investigators.

Richie has also always said that each missing person case should be treated equally in terms of the efforts and resources to find them.

The Ministry of Defence has been contacted by the Mail for comment.