Family of missing Katrice Lee face 'hardest five weeks'
The father of Katrice Lee who went missing in Germany 36 years ago says the next few weeks will be the hardest the family has ever faced as it was announced investigators are to excavate a river bank close to where she vanished.
Richie Lee, from Hartlepool, was a Sergeant Major in the British Army stationed in West Germany when Katrice went missing on her second birthday on November 28, 1981, from a NAAFI shopping complex in Paderborn.
Today, the Ministry of Defence announced that a team of military personnel and civilian forensic experts are to carry out a detailed excavation of the bank of the River Alme, in Paderborn, which was identified as a site of interest when the Royal Military Police reopened the investigation in 2012. It is expected to take up to five weeks.
Katrice's parents Richie, and and Sharon Lee, from Gosport, have always believed that she was taken as a surrogate child for another family and is still alive somewhere unaware of her true identity.
Richie, 68, said of the latest development: "For the next five weeks it is going to be as though my family are walking on egg shells.
"Until such a time as the excavation is completed, in reality, we are still back at day one. I have my belief that she didn't leave the NAAFI on her own.
"I have always said someone picked her up and walked off with her. We have always believed that it was as a surrogate child.
"But now this situation has confronted us we have got to see this investigation out.
"Hopefully, they don't find anything which leaves them free to pursue other avenues.
"If nothing is found it is another idea ticked off. One of the major ideas that would stand out is we were correct and she was taken, abducted as a surrogate child and is living a lie.
"This five weeks period is going to be the hardest we have ever had to wait for the whole family."
Richie will travel to Germany later this week along with Hartlepool MP Mike Hill who has taken up the case in Parliament.
Mr Hill said: "This is a significant development in the search for Katrice and a major effort by the Royal Military Police and the MOD to bring to an end this particular line of enquiry.
"I have supported my Constituent Richard Lee in the pursuit of his missing daughter from day one and rightly so, which is why I will be out there with him this week in Paderborn.
"The family have suffered the uncertainty of not knowing what happened to Katrice for almost 37 long and agonising years and they really do deserve closure."
Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson said: “The disappearance of a child is every parent’s worst nightmare and I have been struck by the courage and dignity of the Lee family who have never given up on their search for Katrice.
"As this major dig gets underway, the efforts and expertise of the Royal Military Police are behind the family.
"I urge anyone who was in the Paderborn area at the time of the disappearance to contact the helpline – even the smallest detail could be the key to solving this heart-wrenching case.”
Anyone with information can call 0800 616888 or email: [email protected]