'Nothing to celebrate' - Hartlepool father reflects on 40th anniversary of search for missing Katrice Lee
Anguished father Richard Lee has vowed never to give up on the search for his daughter as he marks 40 years since she went missing.
Katrice Lee disappeared on her second birthday on November 28, 1981, from a from a NAAFI supermarket in Paderborn, formerly West Germany, where dad Richard, from Hartlepool, was serving with the British Army.
She has not been seen since despite repeated appeals for information.
But her family believe she is alive and unaware of her real identity.
As the 40th anniversary of her disappearance approaches, Richard pledged to continue searching for answers despite saying he has been let down the authorities over the years.
Richard, 72, a retired sergeant major, said: “It’s what I can only describe as an anniversary that I never thought would happen.
"We have been searching for Katrice for 40 years. As far as I’m concerned there’s no difference to any other year because there is nothing to celebrate.
"Katrice now is 42 but more importantly, I hasten to add, there is no evidence that anything untoward happened to Katrice.”
And he stressed: "I’m not going anywhere.”
The official investigation led by the Royal Military Police was scaled back to a “reactive state” last December.
Richard has now revealed that during that meeting with investigators, he was informed that there were 15 known sex offenders in the vicinity in 1981.
He said: "We appreciate the fact there could always be a dark turn in the story. However, to be told at the 39-year point was a complete and total shock.”
Richard, of the Stockton Road area, recently returned to the spot in Germany where Katrice disappeared.
He has previously called for a public inquiry into the investigation after Royal Military Police chiefs admitted in 2012 that mistakes were made during the initial investigation.
Richard added: "I will keep asking questions. They didn’t do things in the first 24 hours which we all now know are the golden hours.
"If the authorities are not pushing information out to the public and the media you will never get leads coming in and we will never get the answers we deserve.”
He has met with numerous ministers and politicians over the years to try to get action for Katrice and all missing persons.
Earlier this month, Prime Minister Boris Johnson agreed to meet Richard “father to father” after the case was raised in the House of Commons by town MP Jill Mortimer.
Richard said: “Him saying that moved me. I thought it was nice to talk in that fashion, however, I’ve been let down by the past and I won’t be let down by the present.”
No date has been confirmed for the meeting yet, but Richard said: “The clock is ticking.”
Richard will mark Sunday’s anniversary with a release of balloons emblazoned with Katrice’s image.
A Ministry of Defence spokesperson said: "Our thoughts and sympathies remain with Katrice Lee's family as we approach 40 years since her disappearance.
“A review of the investigation in 2019 did not identify any new lines of enquiry. The Lee family were briefed in person on the outcome of the review and the decision to end active investigations on 11 December, 2020.”