Body found in hunt for student missing on New Year's Eve

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The Independent Online

A Woman's body has been discovered near Cambridge by police searching for a 22-year-old student who went missing after a New Year's Eve party.

Detectives fear the body is that of Sally Geeson who sent a text message saying "Help me" shortly after she got a lift from a pub in Cambridge city centre seven days ago.

The remains were found yesterday afternoon in woods near the American military cemetery at the village of Madingley on the outskirts of Cambridge.

Concern for the safety of the student, who was studying forensic science at Anglia Polytechnic University in Cambridge, had been growing since she went missing at about 1am on New Year's Day. The last communication she made was to send three text messages saying that she had got a lift with "someone" and minutes later pleading "Help me".

As the days have gone by police have become increasingly concerned that she was abducted. Detective Superintendent Garry Swain, who is leading the investigation, said yesterday: "I can confirm that we have found a body in the woods. I can also confirm it is the body of a female.

"The family of Sally Geeson have been told we have found a body but obviously at this stage I cannot confirm any identification and that will not be done today." A police statement added: "Police forensic teams and senior detectives are at the scene together with a forensic pathologist."

Last night officers cordoned off The Avenue in Madingley close to the American cemetery, which contains the remains of US servicemen and women who died during the Second World War.

Detectives were called to Madingley Mill Farm in Cambridge Road, just west of the city, at around 4.20pm. An employee at the cemetery next door, said: "At about 4.20pm I saw the flashing police lights. They were at one of the back gates to the cemetery, which opens on to Mill Farm."

The cemetery is a well-known local landmark and attracts thousands of visitors each year. The site, donated by the University of Cambridge, covers about 30 and a half acres. It is framed by woods on the south and west sides.

Ms Geeson was among a group of about 20 friends who went to a New Year's Eve party at The Avery pub, known as the Hog's Head, in the centre of Cambridge. Her friends said Ms Geeson had been in a typically good mood and had enjoyed an evening of drinking and socialising. She turned down an offer of a lift from a friend to go back to their house, about a mile-and-a-half away in the Brookfields part of Cambridge, which she shared with six other students.

Among the last people to see her alive was Steve Penfold, 24, a recruitment consultant from Romford, Essex, who had come up to Cambridge to celebrate New Year after being invited by one of Ms Geeson's friends, Andy Webber.

Mr Penfold said: "It ended up with me and Sally. We left around 1am and she wanted some chips and went to get herself some. There was a bit of a fight behind me and I went over and decided it would be a good idea to break it up. It separated; I turned around and in the short amount of time Sally wasn't there."

He returned to the pub where a bouncer told him a woman matching Sally's description and carrying chips had gone into the pub, but despite looking, Mr Penfold said he could not find her.

After Ms Geeson returned to The Avery she apparently went back to Regent Street, outside the pub. Police have recovered images from closed-circuit television cameras which are thought to show the young woman in the road.

From text messages sent on her mobile it appears that she got a lift. The first text at 1.36am was sent, apparently in error, to her friend Mr Webber and read: "Hey Em, please come find me cos everyone has gone x." This is thought to refer to getting a lift from Emily Prior, who was Ms Geeson's housemate.

A second text, sent at 1.40am to housemate Janet O'Dea, said: "No one waited for me I've got into a car with someone please call me x". A third text to Andy Webber at 1.42am said simply: "Please help me x".

Unfortunately the text messages were delayed for several hours because the phone system was overloaded with New Year messages. Ms Geeson's phone went dead about eight hours after her last text.

Her family, who come from Southend, earlier yesterday made the latest in a series of appeals for information. Ms Geeson's identical twin, Julie, had posed for photographs outside The Avery pub in the hope of jogging the memories of potential witnesses. Their mother, Sue Geeson, 46, added: "We are just living through hell. Day to day. We never sleep. It's very, very difficult."

Ms Prior, said: "She was ecstatic, in such a good mood. It was New Year's Eve; she was going to a party; she had money to buy drinks; and she had a new party dress. She had everything for a great night. It was the first time she had worn the dress which she had bought with her twin sister."