Police search for missing schoolgirls

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The Independent Online
MORE THAN 100 police officers with tracker dogs were searching yesterday for two 10-year-old girls from Hastings, in Sussex, who have not been seen since they set off on a 500-yard walk to school on Tuesday morning.

The parents of Lisa Hoodless and Charlene Lunnon appealed for their safe return and expressed concern that Christ Church girls' school had not rung to tell them their daughters did not arrive. Their worries were compounded when the police revealed that parents of all children at the school had been warned about a man seen loitering in the area.

Detective Superintendent Jeremy Paine, the detective who led the hunt for the killer of the Hastings teenager Billie Jo Jenkins, was drafted in yesterday to lead the hunt for the girls. He also expressed concern: "If they have no money or clothing, that's worrying as it's getting dark and because of the weather. Thirty-six hours is a long time for these two 10-year-olds to be away from home, and that worries me a lot. As time goes by it's more and more worrying, both to the parents and to us," he said.

For the past month Lisa and Charlene have walked to school together each morning after telling their parents they wanted to be "responsible". Philomena Lunnon, Charlene's stepmother, said Charlene had been nervous of walking to school after they received the letter warning them about the man. "I told her she could walk to school in the mornings and I would pick her up after school because it was dark and she said that was fine," she said.

Her father, Keith, said the children were allowed to walk because the 10-minute route did not pass any major roads or wooded areas and because they were both "very streetwise".

But both sets of parents said they wanted an explanation about why they were not told earlier that their children had not arrived at school.

It was only when Julie Hoodless, Lisa's mother, arrived at 4pm to collect her daughter that she discovered neither child had been at school all day.

She said that every time her daughter had been too ill to attend school in the past, she had always telephoned the school immediately.

The school's headteacher, Anne Hanney, said that teachers would not have been aware that the girls had set off for school that morning. "We follow up all absences but you cannot do it the same day," she said.

Mrs Lunnon said: "Charlene was normally home by 3.45pm. When 4.45pm passed and when 5.30pm went, I knew that something was very, very wrong."

Lisa's father, Andrew, a gardener, appealed for her to come home yesterday. "We are very scared. She's never played truant before. She's a very happy girl, very bright and intelligent."

Both sets of parents insisted that neither girl had any problems either at home or at school.