Thousands help search for teenager

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The Independent Online

An army of nearly 10,000 volunteers answered a police call to scour countryside in the search for clues to help find teenager Louise Smith, who disappeared after a Christmas Eve outing to a nightclub.

The search, one of the largest of its kind conducted by police, involved painstakingly surveying fields, commons, roadsides and embankments within a two mile radius of Chipping Sodbury, near Bristol.

Detective Superintendent John Newman, who is leading the hunt, said: "People of all ages and from all walks of life have turned up in a marvellous gesture by the community. It has been a huge operation for the force but an excellent one.

Volunteers were largely from the Chipping Sodbury and Yate area but others had travelled from further afield including South Wales and Weston-Super- Mare, Avon. Buses brought searchers from South Bristol while clergy had encouraged their congregations to search rather than go to church. Three hundred police officers were joined by off-duty officers.

Among those searching were friends of the missing 18-year-old. A tearful Tracy Anstey, 18, had been at the Spirals nightclub in Yate with Louise on the fateful night.

She said: "Everybody was trying to stop me coming here today because they thought I would be a mess, but at least by being here I feel I am doing something. It is better than just being at home."

The missing girl's father, Robert Smith, aged 49, said he was overwhelmed at the public response. "I knew there would be a lot of people, but I never believed there would be this many. I hope something will come out of all this goodwill."

He said family and friends had rallied round to help them cope since Louise disappeared after leaving the nightclub to walk home. Mr. Smith said he was trying to take each day as it came. "We just want our daughter home. We all love and we all miss her terribly. She was an ordinary teenage girl. We are trying not to think the worse."

Searchers were advised to look for clothing or other clues or anything that could be a burial site.

After the five-hour search, police said some small finds had been made, but nothing significant. A number of telephone calls made during the day were being followed up. The search area will now be widened.

n A badly burned body found smouldering next to a railway platform was that of a girl, possibly as young as 15, police said yesterday.

The petite, fully clothed, body was found yesterday at the unmanned Burley Park station in Chapel Lane, Leeds. She had 90 per cent burns and has yet to be identified. Police believe the body was set alight after she had died.