Classmates grieve for murdered girl, 16

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The Independent Online

They came in small groups, chaperoned across Reading's Prospect Park by their teachers, to the place beside the copse with the fading bluebells where Mary-Ann Leneghan's body had been discarded.

They came in small groups, chaperoned across Reading's Prospect Park by their teachers, to the place beside the copse with the fading bluebells where Mary-Ann Leneghan's body had been discarded.

The teenagers, hugging each other for support, began to remove their school ties and lay them at the spot. They carried messages for the girl they knew as "Mezz", written in the ubiquitous mobile phone text-language of the young. "I will neva 4get you" signed Jack.V, a star scrawled below the words . Another said "RIP - U were loved".

Mary-Ann, 16, was to rejoin her friends at Prospect College within a few days to sit her GCSEs. According to her father, Bertie Leneghan, the artistic, caring youngster had "fallen in with a bad crowd" and had dropped out of school.

But in the early hours of Saturday morning, his daughter, who hoped one day to be a nanny or a children's nurse, was murdered; killed by a single stab wound to the neck. Her 18-year-old friend, with whom she had gone out on Friday night, was shot and stabbed. The girls were abandoned at Prospect Park before the 18-year-old managed to make her way to a nearby road and flag a passing motorist who rang for help.

The seriously ill woman was said to have provided police with important information from her hospital bed yesterday.

The girls had undergone a "disgusting ordeal" in the hands of a gang of at least six men. They were abducted and taken to a hotel close to the park where police believe they were sexually and physically assaulted. Forensic tests were still being conducted at the hotel.

Earlier in the day, detectives arrested a man in his 20s after raiding addresses in south London. He has been taken to a Thames Valley Police station for questioning and was released on bail last night. Three other men have also been arrested but released on bail.

Police have gone to great lengths to reassure residents that this was not a random attack, although they would not say whether the girls were known to their attackers.

It is believed the girls were tortured, possibly burnt with cigarettes while being held at the Abbey House Guest House, on the edge of Reading's red light district. One report suggested they had their heads shaved.

Police, who offered a £10,000 reward for information, would only say the girls had undergone a series of "serious assaults". They were forced into a car by a group of men in the grounds of the boarded-up Wallingford Arms pub just yards from Mary-Ann's home, close to Reading town centre on Friday night.

The girls had been transferred to a maroon-coloured saloon car at a local Wickes store before being driven at high speed to the £40-a-night guest house. CCTV footage is being scrutinised in an effort to trace the vehicle.

A police spokeswoman said of the surviving girl: "She went through a pretty disgusting ordeal with them. At the moment she has done the best she can. She is a little girl who has been through a terrible ordeal."

Last night, detectives said they were seeking to identify a clear motive. One line of investigation is that the girls may have become caught up in local drug crime, another is that they were the victims of a sexual assault which escalated into murder.

Meanwhile, Mary-Ann's friends and family were wondering what she had got herself into in the days and weeks before her death.

One of her classmates, Scott Yule, 16, said: "I saw her the day before she was killed, with her mate and some boys. She looked miserable and sad."