Mother charged as daughter recovers from 28-hour ordeal

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The Independent Online
THE MOTHER of Charlotte Jones, the three-year-old girl discovered in woodland 28 hours after going missing, was charged last night with child abandonment and grievous bodily harm with intent.

As Charlotte was recovering in hospital yesterday, 24-year-old Michelle Jones was being held in custody. She is due to appear before Warrington magistrates this morning.

Ms Jones, who lives in the Dallam area of Warrington, Cheshire, was arrested on Tuesday night shortly after Charlotte was found by police.

Yesterday morning the young girl sat up in bed at Warrington General Hospital and opened presents from local police who had feared the worst. She appeared to be back to her "bubbly" self, playing and chatting with the nurses.

Dr Nick Wild, clinical director of child health for Warrington Hospital NHS Trust, was surprised by Charlotte's resilience. He said the fact that she had spent the night in the woods, where ground temperatures do not drop quite as low as in exposed areas, may have helped her to survive "what was a potentially life-threatening episode".

She was reported missing by her mother at 6pm on Monday. Ms Jones, a student, told police that she had last seen her daughter at 5.15pm as they waved goodbye to a social worker at the gate to their house.

Warrington Borough Council is legally responsible for Charlotte's care. A spokesman said the council was working closely with her family and others to reach "the very best short-term decision - a decision that is right for Charlotte".

About 60 officers were involved in the search for Charlotte, which covered the area around her home, nearby waterways and buildings on open land.

As darkness fell on Tuesday night the prospects of finding her alive were reducing. Janet Critchley, 29, a police child protection officer, described how the fog was coming down and she and her colleague, Detective Constable Mark Toker, were preparing for a long night when she heard a child's whimpers.

They fought their way through dense undergrowth in Gypsey Wood, three miles from Charlotte's home, and found her crying and shivering as she sat in the middle of a patch of brambles.

"She was wet and there were no signs of any food," said Constable Critchley, adding that she thought Charlotte had been in the same position for a long time.

"She was upset and distressed and looked very happy to see us ... She just wanted to be picked up and my colleague wrapped her in his coat."

Charlotte was taken to the nearby home of Bill Ashcroft, 61. He said: "I was in the kitchen and I heard the CID man shout 'Bill, Bill'.

"I ran through and he was on the telephone and the little girl was on his knee ... she was hugging him. She was very quiet and her eyes were watery. She looked really scared."

Constable Critchley, who visited Charlotte in hospital yesterday, said that "she was very clingy with her family".

She added: "I gave her a Po Teletubby, gave her a hug and she was smiling."

Charlotte has a large number of scratches and abrasions to her face, hands, legs and feet in addition to "cold injuries" to her hands and feet.

"They have been exposed. I think she must have taken her shoes and socks off," Dr Wild said.

He added that it was difficult to speculate on whether she may have suffered any long-term psychological damage.

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