Runaway girl back with family after couple found in car

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The Independent Online

A girl of 14 who went missing with a 46-year-old divorced grandfather was reunited with her family yesterday after the pair were found asleep in a car in the north of Scotland. David Milner, who disappeared with Stacey Champ on Thursday morning, was arrested and she was put on a plane to Gatwick.

Stacey's mother, Angela, and police had made extensive appeals which provoked more than 3,000 calls of sightings. The car was spotted by a passing motorist on a remote stretch of the A9, the main route to the most northerly part of Scotland, outside Berriedale, near Wick in Caithness.

Officers from Kent had been tracking the couple's movements from sightings over the past four days, most recently while posing as married couple at a hotel in Blackpool. A woman who saw them at the Central Hotel in the Lancashire resort, said Stacey was "giggling" and seemed "quite lovestruck". They left pulling a black suitcase.

Police discovered the couple had travelled to Blackpool from Bristol after a white Escort van, thought to belong to Mr Milner, was found at the city's Temple Meads railway station. Mr Milner then bought a red VW Golf for £300 from a private dealer in Lancashire.

Kenny Falconer, 36, a company director from Thurso, said he was driving past the spot when a lone policeman flagged him down and asked for help to apprehend the pair. "He pointed to a car in a lay-by, and, with a van driver, the three of us surrounded the car," Mr Falconer said.

"At first I thought it was empty but they were asleep in the front seats which had been fully reclined. They looked quite shocked. As soon as he got taken out of the car she became very upset and was crying. He wasn't upset or angry; he seemed resigned."

Mr Falconer said Mr Milner, a former friend of the Champ family who worked with Stacey's mother and had been a regular visitor to their home, looked as if he had not shaved for days and was not wearing glasses as in pictures released by the police.

"If I had passed them in the street I wouldn't have recognised them," Mr Falconer said. "She certainly didn't look 14; she looked like a young lady. Her hair had been dyed."

PC George Ewing, the officer who arrested Mr Milner, said: "We received a call this morning that the red Volkswagen Golf had been seen by a member of the public down at Badbea lay-by, just south of the Berriedale Braes. When I arrived, they were still sleeping within the vehicle. I flagged down two drivers and asked them if they would drive their vehicles to either side of the Volkswagen just to stop them from making good their escape. The couple were sleeping in the car so I just knocked on the window, woke both of them up and the driver opened his window."

The man confirmed his identity and was arrested and handcuffed. The girl was detained for her own safety, PC Ewing said.

"This is probably the worst place in the whole country in Great Britain for runaway couples to come," he said.

"If you are going to be seen anywhere, you're going to be seen in communities such as ones in Caithness and Sutherland and even the Highlands. There's more likelihood of runaways being caught up here than anywhere else. Because of the type of communities we have in the Highlands and Islands, everybody knows everybody else's business."

Mr Milner was driven away from Wick police station yesterday afternoon in an unmarked car.

The officer leading the hunt, Inspector Richard Watson, of Kent police, refused to comment about what, if any, charges would be brought against Mr Milner but said he would be escorted for questioning to Kent, where he was expected to arrive this morning.

"Our main priority was to reunite Stacey with her mother," he said. "We will also be talking to Stacey but only after she has spent time with her mother."

Outside Rochester police station, Stacey's delighted mother said she was relieved the nightmare was finally over.

"I have just been numb with tension for the past four days," Mrs Champ said. "I have not been able to eat or sleep and my stomach has been churning. I hoped Stacey would come back safely. I did not want anything bad to happen to her.

"You read about these stories that do not end so well. I was terrified that might happen. I'm just so glad Stacey is coming home. I'm just looking forward to spending time with her. We have a lot to talk about."