DNA test for 1,200 lorry drivers

CHRIS MOWBRAY

and JASON BENNETTO

DNA testing is to be used nationally for the first time in an attempt to catch the murderer of the French student Celine Figard, whom police revealed yesterday was probably raped before being strangled.

The naked body of Celine, 19, was found dumped in woodland in Worcestershire 10 days after she was given a lift by a lorry driver.

Police hunting her killer said yesterday that they intended to take DNA samples from all 1,200 drivers of white Mercedes lorries, similar to the one which Celine climbed into before she disappeared.

It will be the first time that mass testing has been carried out nationally and on the members of a particular trade. Large-scale screening in previous murder inquiries has only been done on a local basis.

In the most recent case up to 800 DNA samples, from mouth swabs, were taken from young men in the hunt for the killer of the schoolgirl Naomi Smith. The tests started in October from the village of Ansley Common, near Nuneaton, Warwickshire, where Naomi, 15, was found stabbed and sexually assaulted. In November a 19-year-old man was charged with her murder.

The latest development in the Celine murder inquiry comes as police revealed that the student had been raped. Samples taken from her body have provided police with DNA, which they believe belongs to her killer. Forensic scientists plan to compare this sample with those taken from the lorry drivers. Anyone refusing to co-operate will be further investigated.

Celine was last seen on 19 December being given a lift at Chievely Services on the M4 in Berkshire. The driver of the vehicle is described as a white man, in his late 30s and with fair or ginger hair and a close-cropped beard.

Detective Chief Superintendent John McCammont, the head of West Mercia CID, said: "The forensic evidence shows that she had sexual intercourse since travelling from France and I believe it took place without her consent.

"This sample will be of great value in eliminating drivers from our investigation. If we carry out DNA testing on all drivers of white Mercedes lorries, we should find the man responsible or discover that he has gone missing.

"The new evidence will be welcomed by members of the haulage industry who are ... genuinely aghast and appalled."

The DNA from Celine's body will also be checked against the newly established national DNA database of "genetic fingerprints", to see whether it matches any samples taken from criminals or at the scenes of other offences.

The database - the first in the world - was set up last April. Since then police have been able to take samples from anyone being questioned in connection with a recorded crime. At first, only samples from a limited number of categories - sex offences, burglary and serious assault - are being recorded.

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