The dad of Katrice Lee who vanished in Germany more than 36 years ago said returning to the scene has been like ‘re-entering a living nightmare’.
Richie Lee, 68, yesterday visited the site in Paderborn where Royal Military Police are digging for evidence of her possible murder.
Richie spoke to members of the search crew on the banks of the River Alme near to where Katrice disappeared on her second birthday on November 28, 1981.
While he expressed his gratitude for their efforts, he also told of his regret that it had not happened much sooner.
Richie, who was stationed there as a sergeant major in the Army at the time, said: “This journey has been, to say the least extremely hard on myself, to come out here to represent my whole family, and for want of better words re-enter the living nightmare my family and extended family have had to endure.”
He added: “I wanted to talk to all the crew working on the site.
“I think they feel possibly as sad as I do that it has taken 37 years to get to this point.”
The search site was identified as being of particular interest when the Royal Military Police reopened the investigation called Operation BUTE in 2012.
It is after a green saloon car, similar to one a man seen holding a child like Katrice getting into, was spotted near the river bank the next day.
Richie added investigators were working from a theory that Katrice could have been sexually assaulted, killed and her body buried in the area.
But he said his faith in his belief that Katrice was taken to be a surrogate child for another family is still as strong as ever.
Richie, who is divorced from Katrice’s mother Sharon, and has another daughter Natasha, said: “We have always said there could be a dark side to the story.
“For the next five weeks my family has a shadow hanging over its head.
“As her father I don’t want them to find any evidence that Katrice is here.
“My faith in the belief she has been brought up living a lie has never faltered.”
News of the excavation has brought greater attention to Katrice’s case from national and international media.
Richie hopes it will lead to vital new information coming to light and raise awareness of a distinctive eye condition in Katrice’s left eye which would have needed two operations to correct.