Police have named the nine-year-old girl found strangled in the cab of a lorry and her mother's boyfriend, who is believed to have strangled her.
Stacey Lawrence's body was found behind drawn curtains in the cab of the unlocked lorry, which had been parked off the A605 near Warmington, Northamptonshire, on Saturday afternoon. Officers unsuccessfully attempted to resuscitate her. Her mother's boyfriend, who was named as Darren Walker, 40, from West Bromwich in the West Midlands, was later discovered hanged by a cord in nearby woodland.
Police discovered the lorry after being alerted by AF Blakemore and Son Ltd, the haulage company that employed Mr Walker, at about 2pm on Saturday afternoon when they became concerned that the lorry had not returned to the company's base in Willenhall, on the outskirts of Wolverhampton. It was tracked to a lay-by near a Jet filling station using GPS.
One 24-year-old employee at the company described Mr Walker as a "sound bloke". "He was a cracking lad who liked his football and was always cracking jokes," he said. "I couldn't believe it when someone held up a paper this morning and said 'look who that is'. He's not the sort of bloke you'd ever think would do something like this. But then you don't know do you?" A 58-year-old lorry driver, who did not want to be named, said: "He [Mr Walker] was always happy, always smiling. We were really shocked. All everyone's been saying is what a nice bloke he was."
Stacey's mother said her daughter had been taken on the trip as a "treat" and her daughter had been happy to go along. She said she had no concerns about her daughter accompanying Mr Walker, who she had been seeing for about a year.
Police yesterday confirmed that Mr Walker was not the child's stepfather, as he was not married to Stacey's mother.
Investigators are keen to trace the movements of the white articulated lorry from its departure from the depot to the lay-by where the incident happened. Police said it had travelled straight to Great Yarmouth in Norfolk, where Mr Walker made a number of deliveries to Spar stores in the area before heading to Northamptonshire via Peterborough. He parked the lorry, which did not contain any goods, in the lay-by shortly after 3.35pm on Friday afternoon.
Detective Chief Inspector Tricia Kirk, who is leading the investigation, said: "I am still keen to hear from anyone who saw the lorry during the course of its journey on Friday. It will have spent a great deal of time in Norfolk and Cambridgeshire during daylight hours, particularly on the A47, so I'm hopeful we will get some good information about its movements during the day."
Although post-mortem examinations on both bodies have yet to be returned, police said they were looking at all possibilities, including that Stacey could have been sexually assaulted but said it was unlikely that anyone else was involved. "We have got no evidence at this time to indicate that Stacey was sexually assaulted," said Det Ch Insp Kirk. "While our investigation is still at an early stage it is clearly something we would like to rule out as quickly as possible."
Northamptonshire police said Mr Walker had been a "part of the family set-up" and that he had a close relationship with the child. There had been no issues or concerns raised within the family. They said they were working with the families of both Stacey and Mr Walker to try to establish what led to the incident.
Det Ch Insp Kirk said that Stacey's mother was "deeply shocked that someone she cared for could do something like this".
Although Mr Walker was not known to Northamptonshire police, they said they were checking whether he was known to any other forces.
AF Blakemore and Son Ltd, which has a contract to deliver goods to Spar shops across the Midlands, said in a statement: "We are deeply saddened by a tragic incident which has been reported to us this weekend. We are unable to comment further at this time, while the police are establishing all the facts. It's a really tragic, horrific situation, and at the moment there's really nothing more we can say. We will, of course, be offering the police our full support in their inquiry. In the meantime our thoughts are with the families of those affected."Reuse content