Beach photocall for returned girls as police search bungalow

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The Independent Online
THEY WERE two little girls taking a simple stroll on the beach. But for Lisa Hoodless and Charlene Lunnon this ordinary activity was particularly poignant yesterday.

After four lost days, the schoolfriends have learned a valuable lesson in the value of freedom.

Smiling, giggling, sometimes hugging, sometimes holding hands, the 10- year-olds who disappeared on their walk to school on Tuesday morning appeared to relish the attention of journalists and photographers on Hastings beach, in East Sussex, Lisa's favourite play place.

Police who had mounted the biggest missing persons hunt in Sussex are giving the girls the time just to be children again, before the formal interviews.

Both families are said to be still in a state of euphoria at their return. But parents and police know the delicate process of discovering exactly what happened to the children while they were missing is still to come. Officers are keeping steady contact with the families in case they need support.

The weekend began for Charlene, who wants to be a vet, with the knowledge that her hamster Fluffy was well. Rubbing her eyes, she emerged in pink and white pyjamas, with her father Keith and stepmother Philomena, yesterday morning at their door in Cherry Close, St Leonards.

Only a day before, the family had been close to giving up hope. They had placed a note under her pillow which read simply: "We love you Charlene - always." Philomena admitted she had secretly feared the little girl was dead.

Mr Lunnon said his daughter had gone to bed early to help recover from her ordeal. "We all feel much more rested this morning," he added.

"We went to bed nice and early and Charlene slept all night and woke at around 9am."

Around the corner, Lisa Hoodless had also woken to good news. She has been granted a week off school to recover. Her mother Julie said Lisa had tucked into a plate of spaghetti and "a big bowl of porridge" before chatting to Charlene on the phone on Friday night.

Lisa had told her family she had missed them and it was good to be home. "Lisa is fine today, she's been bubbly, her usual self," said Mrs Hoodless yesterday. "When I first saw her I gave her a big hug." Lisa said she was so happy to get home. "Everyone was cuddling me. I was cuddling my mum and dad. Then I had a nice hot shower.

"It was very exciting to get home. Seeing all my family was the most exciting thing.

"I phoned Charlene and asked if she was OK - she is my best friend in the whole world."

She even missed her father moaning at her, she said mischievously, and she was looking forward to seeing her boyfriend Stevie, who is nine.

Lisa's brother James, 12, added: "She'll be famous when she gets back to school."

Celebrations are planned in both households. A family friend, Alison Fitzpatrick was among the relatives and friends with the Hoodless family on Friday night. She said Lisa and her parents were "overwhelmed" by the situation.

But Lisa did not want to talk about her ordeal at the moment and had not done so.

"She's drawing and colouring. She got a piggy off a friend, a pink pig, and she's called it Pc Piggy," Ms Fitzpatrick said. "She's communicating with her mum - quite lovely, smiling - a permanent fix I think that smile is."

Police were still questioning Alan Hopkinson, 47, from Eastbourne, at Hastings police station about the abduction.

Detectives also continued to search the flat where the girls were found, above a run-down shopping centre in the seaside resort of Eastbourne, 15 miles from St Leonards.

Officers took away samples of material, carpeting and bedding for forensic examination.

A few hundred yards along the road from the flat, two tow trucks arrived at a bungalow believed to belong to the arrested man's parents.

A Vauxhall Corsa car is understood to have been taken away and forensic officers continued to search the bungalow.

The lawns of the house were cordoned off with police tape as the experts combed the building.

The parents, a retired couple in their late sixties or early seventies who are believed to have lived in Rhodesia before it became Zimbabwe, were said not to be at home.