Strangled girl 'might have been sexually assaulted'

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The Independent Online

A nine-year-old girl found strangled in her mother's boyfriend's lorry might have been sexually assaulted, police revealed today.

Stacey Lawrence was found dead on Saturday in the cab of a white Spar lorry, parked in a lay-by on the A605 in Warmington, Northamptonshire.

She had been with her mother's partner Darren Walker, 40, who is believed to have murdered the schoolgirl then hanged himself in nearby woodland.

Detective Chief Inspector Tricia Kirk, of Northamptonshire Police, said today that police could not rule out some sexual touching in the incident that led to her death.

Speaking at a press conference at the force's headquarters, Ms Kirk said an examination had found some possible evidence of sexual touching.

But she said there was no sign of a further sexual assault.

She said: "We would like nothing more than to be able to give the family a clear picture into what has gone on.

"The tests we are doing we are hoping may give us a clearer indication. But we may never know exactly what happened in that lorry."

Ms Kirk also revealed that Walker, the boyfriend of Stacey's mother Roxanne, was involved in a domestic incident involving his wife of three years, whom he was divorcing.

She said the complaint concerned an assault on his wife in 2006.

"He was cautioned for that offence and we have no other criminal records for him," she said.

Ms Kirk said police, working with detectives in the West Midlands, are working to track down Walker's previous partners to uncover any other incidents, and the family computer has also been seized.

She said the family was in shock and officers have not yet begun speaking to Stacey's three siblings about Walker, but plan to do so at some point.

Ms Kirk said police wanted any witnesses to come forward to help build up a picture of what happened in the run-up to Stacey's murder.

She said they have now ruled out anybody else's involvement in the incident.

Police previously said Walker and Stacey left wholesale distribution firm AF Blakemore & Son's depot in Willenhall, West Midlands, at around 4am on Friday.

They travelled to Great Yarmouth, Norfolk, and Walker, from West Bromwich, undertook deliveries to Spar shops across Norfolk throughout the day.

At around 3pm the lorry stopped for a short break near Peterborough at about 3pm, before arriving at the lay-by in Warmington at about 3.35pm.

Ms Kirk today said the pair were spotted leaving the lorry to use a toilet at the services.

They ate a meal of macaroni cheese and Stacey's mother Roxanne last heard from Walker some time between 7.30pm and 8pm that night.

She said: "When he called her, he said he was about to go to bed and was expecting to leave in the early hours of Saturday to get back to the depot.

"She heard Stacey talking in the background because she was watching a programme that she particularly liked.

"Her mother thought that was My Family.

"She doesn't describe there being any indication that there was anything wrong, it was just a normal conversation."

"She trusted him and did not have any reason to think that he would ever cause any harm to her daughter."

Ms Kirk told the press conference Walker, who was thought to have worked for Blakemore for five to six years, had been seeing Stacey's mother for about a year.

She said: "The picture we get of the family is that there was never any cause for concern with his relationships."

She said if there were ever any arguments between the children, Walker took a "back seat" and would not get involved.

Ms Kirk said he had never taken Stacey's siblings on trips in the lorry with him, but had taken her a few times.

"It would seem that there has only been a couple of trips," she added.

Ms Kirk said it appeared Stacey had gone to sleep in the bunk in the cab of the lorry, but was then strangled using a ligature of black fabric.

The same sort of fabric, possibly some sort of strapping, was also used by Walker to hang himself.

Forensic tests are taking place to find out exactly what the fabric is, Ms Kirk said.

She said there was nothing else in the cab to cause concern, and it had been fully forensically examined.

She said: "The cab really doesn't tell us an awful lot except that two people had been having a meal and sleeping in there."

Ms Kirk said nine-year-old Stacey was the youngest of four children, described by her mother as a very popular girl at school, artistic with a lively imagination.

She said she loved animals and hoped one day to become a zoo keeper.

She said Stacey's mother Roxanne was "devastated" by what had happened.

Mrs Lawrence told the Express and Star her life had been ruined.

She said she had been planning to marry Walker, who she believed was a dedicated family man.

She told the newspaper: "I'm trying to be angry with him but I'm finding it really difficult because I loved him.

"Stacey was a really happy little girl and was very popular, with lots of friends.

"I just can't believe she is gone. It shocked all of us because he was such a lovely family guy.

"He has just shocked everyone, we never dreamed he would do anything like that.

"She used to call him dad. I've been wracking my brains.

"He never ever went upstairs to her bedroom, he never gave us any reason to even contemplate that he could do something like that.

"He didn't have a temper. I can honestly say I never saw it, he never raised his voice at the children or at me."

Mrs Lawrence, a voluntary worker, said what hurt most was thinking of Stacey in pain in her final moments.