Fears grow for backpacker lost in Thailand

Missing women: Student's parents draw a blank as police step up searches at home
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Fears for the safety of a backpacker missing in Thailand grew yesterday when her parents, who have flown out to search for her, declared that they had "drawn a blank".

Jo Masheder, 23, was due to return home before Christmas but she did not board her flight and has not contacted her family since. Her father, Stuart, made an appeal yesterday for fellow travellers who may have met her to contact the police.

Mr Masheder and his wife, Jackie, are staying on Ko Samui, one of a group of islands 400 miles south of Bangkok, to which Miss Masheder was thought to have been heading before her disappearance.

He told BBC Radio 4's Today programme that he believed his daughter had been in northern Thailand at the beginning of December and had moved south as the month progressed. She had already visited Canada, Australia, New Zealand and Fiji alone after completing her law exams at York University.

He said he had spoken to numerous locals but thought that they might have had difficulty in remembering the features of Westerners.

"They probably think we all look quite similar, and distinguishing relatively subtle differences between people three weeks after they've seen them is extremely difficult," he said.

"We're just trying to use our best judgment, based on what we know of Jo's intentions ... but so far we have drawn a complete blank."

British police, who are liaising with their counterparts at Interpol, have issued a description of Miss Masheder in the hope that a returning holidaymaker might remember her.

"Jo is very tall and we are hoping someone will remember seeing her," said Insp Colin Cope of Macclesfield police. She is slim with afair complexion and has light brown hair which she wears in a long bob style or a pony-tail.

While travelling, she was wearing jeans or shorts and T-shirts. She was carrying a blue 75-litre rucksack.

Mrs Masheder last spoke to her daughter on 7 December, when she was in the northern Thai region around the city of Chiang Mai. Since then, a friend in England received a postcard from her from Bangkok, but her family has not been contacted, even though she missed her flight.

Meanwhile, in England, detectives searching for 18-year-old Louise Smith, who went missing early on Christmas Day after a leaving Spirals club in Yate, near Bristol, said they remained "baffled" by her disappearance.

Officers from Avon and Somerset Police who questioned guests at the club on Sunday said they received useful information but no positive leads to help find Miss Smith, a clerical assistant.

Justin Panetta, 22, a friend who last saw her alive, was able to tell police that she was driven off in a blue Ford Fiesta by a dark-haired woman called Emma. A police spokesman said officers had so far been unable to track down the Fiesta or the woman.

Police leading the hunt for the murderer of the French accountancy student Celine Figard, 19, are being helped by hauliers across the country, who are checking the records of movements of their white Mercedes-Benz lorries.

Celine was last seen alive taking a lift from the driver of such a lorry at Chieveley services at the junction of the M4 and the A34 near Newbury, Berkshire, two weeks ago.