Man named in hunt for Lauren's killer

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The Independent Online

Geoffrey Nuttall, 44, is suspected of trying to strangle a 30-year-old woman at knifepoint in front of her four-year-old son and molesting another victim in a separate attack. North Wales Police put out a nationwide alert for Nuttall earlier this week amid fears he had returned to his native Wigan in Greater Manchester. Warrants were later executed in the town where Nuttall has associates but detectives have found no trace of him. They think he may be sleeping rough in a stolen car.

Manchester United fan Lauren - described by her family neighbours as a "tomboy" - went missing on Thursday after she spent the evening playing football with her friends near her home. When she didn't return home by 8pm her family became concerned and started to look for her. Her mother called police to report her missing from the family home on Twist Lane at 10.13pm.

Officers searched the area surrounding her home, helped by her family and members of the public and a police helicopter helped with the search. Lauren's grandfather, Barry Smith, discovered her body in a wooded area adjacent to Sanderson Street in Leigh, at 2.30am. It is believed her body had been covered by leaves and twigs. It was just 200 yards from her home.

An autopsy is being held to establish the cause of her death. A woman told police she spotted a man wearing a woolly hat acting in an agitated manner in the area and apparently watching some children going home from school in the run up to Lauren's death.

Detective Superintendent Andy Tattersall of Greater Manchester Police said yesterday, "We have now received a number of confirmed sightings of Lauren on Thursday evening. These are currently being followed up and as part of this we will be speaking to her friends and other people she knew. I would like to renew my appeal to anyone who saw Lauren on Thursday evening or anyone with any information about her death to come forward."

Lauren's mother, Alison Pilkington, 35, and father, Glenn Smith, 37, issued a statement in which they said, "Lauren was a beautiful lively little girl, and the family have been left devastated by what has happened. Our world has collapsed in the last 24 hours and we can't even begin to think about what we will do without her.

"Lauren was a tomboy who loved playing out with her friends. Everyone around here loved her, we don't know how we will come to terms with this. She loved football and was huge Manchester United fan. She loved playing golf and riding her BMX. Her brothers and sisters will miss her terribly."

Lauren leaves two sisters, Rebecca, aged 15, and Ciara, two, and a brother, Sam, aged four.

The hunt for Nuttall began last month after he was suspected of attacking the 30-year-old woman at her home in Bethesda, North Wales. A scruffy man called at the woman's house on June 21 and asked for water for his car, which she gave him. But he returned 10 minutes later and tried to strangle her as her young son looked on. Detectives said she was able to fight him off before he fled.

Police took the unusual step of naming Nuttall and said they also wanted to question him over a sexual attack on a woman in the Mold area two days after the attack on the young mother. They said he regularly changes his appearance using props, such as a hat and binoculars, to pose as a hillwalker.

Nuttall, who is considered dangerous and should not be approached, may be driving a stolen blue Rover 214 car.