Body found in Kent garden is girl missing since 1991

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The Independent Online

Nearly 17 years after Vicky Hamilton was last seen, the fate of the girl whose disappearance led to one of the largest missing person hunts in Scottish history was resolved yesterday when police confirmed her remains had been found in the garden of a house in Kent.

Detectives said the body discovered buried in a sandpit at a terraced house in Margate earlier this week was that of Vicky, who was 15 when she vanished. She was last seen in February 1991, waiting for a bus in the town of Bathgate, West Lothian, on her way home from a weekend visit to her sister.

A 61-year-old man, Peter Tobin, has already been charged over the schoolgirl's disappearance. At the time of Vicky's disappearance, he was living in Bathgate, less than a mile from the town centre square where she was last spotted. The house in Margate was briefly occupied by Mr Tobin in 1991 after Vicky went missing. Police said he had lived at numerous addresses since the 1960s, while travelling the country as a handyman.

Forensic specialists were called to the house in Kent as part of a separate inquiry into the disappearance of another teenager, 18-year-old Dinah McNicol. She disappeared in the same year as Vicky while hitchhiking home to Essex from a music festival in Hampshire.

Ms McNicol was last seen in a car with an unknown man and her bank card was repeatedly used in the month after she went missing to withdraw the £2,000 she had saved to go travelling.

Detectives said last night they were continuing to search the terraced house for other human remains. Several forces in England are looking at other deaths and outstanding missing person hunts to see if there is a connection with the case of Vicky.

Detective Superintendent Tim Wells, of Essex Police, said: "We had reasons to come here. Those reasons still exist. We came here for Dinah. And we haven't finished yet. There is a chance that she is here. In fairness to the family, we need to fully answer the question as to whether she was here at any time. I do not intend to leave the house until I'm fully satisfied there are not any other human remains at that site."

Officers have spent recent days carrying out an examination of the garden and interior of the property after asking the current owners to move out temporarily. The sandpit where Vicky's remains were found was dug to a depth of 6ft. Officers said a "deep search", involving stripping the property back to its bare brick walls, would now take place. Ms McNicol's father, Ian, 68, a musician from Tillingham, Essex, said: "I'm a bit upset it's not Dinah they found. We were hoping to get to the end so we could grieve. The wait goes on."

After Vicky's disappearance in 1991, more than 7,000 people were interviewed by police and 4,000 statements were taken but no trace was ever found of her. The schoolgirl was travelling to her home in Redding, Falkirk, after spending the weekend with her sister in Livingston, West Lothian.

The only physical clue that was ever found in the investigation was the discovery of the teenager's purse in a bin at the main bus station in Edinburgh. Vicky's mother, Janet, died in 1993 without knowing what had happened to her daughter.

The story of Vicky Hamilton's disappearance

* 10 February 1991 Vicky Hamilton, 15, travelled from her sister's house in Livingston to home, near Falkirk.

* 5.25pm She got off a bus Bathgate, West Lothian, to wait for a connecting service, asking for directions to the bus stop.

* 5.35pm After buying a bag of chips, she crossed the road and sat on a bench to eat. It was the last time she was seen.

* 21 February Her purse was found in a bin near the bus station in Edinburgh, sparking rumours she had left for a new life in the city.

* November 2006 Lothian and Borders Police said they had reopened the case and were treating it as a murder inquiry.

* July 2007 Police charged Peter Tobin, 61, in connection with Vicky's disappearance after a search of his former home in Bathgate, West Lothian.

* 10 November 2007 Police officers searching for the missing teenager Dinah McNicol, from Essex, began their search of a house in Margate, Kent, a former home of Mr Tobin.

* 4 November 2007 Human remains found in a sandpit in the garden were confirmed to be those of Vicky Hamilton, ending a nearly 17-year search.