Hopes of finding the missing personal assistant Sian O'Callaghan alive were dashed last night as police announced that they had arrested a man on suspicion of murder and had been told the location of two bodies.
After a dramatic day in which officers swooped on a local taxi driver outside a supermarket, Wiltshire Police revealed that they had arrested a 47-year-old man on two counts of murder and one count of kidnap. Detectives confirmed they had a found a body thought to be Sian's, although she had not yet been formally identified.
Detective Superintendent Steve Fulcher made the announcement at a sombre press conference yesterday evening. Earlier in the day police had expressed hope that they would still find the 22-year-old alive, but instead they are now confronting a double murder inquiry.
"A 47-year-old man from Swindon is in custody, having been arrested for kidnap and two murders," Mr Fulcher said. "The location of two bodies has been identified to me by this individual, one of whom has yet to be identified formally, but I am quite clear is Sian.
"I have informed Sian's family, who are obviously deeply distressed, and I would ask you please to give them time and space to come to terms with what's happened."
It is believed that a body was found near the village of Uffington, the location of a prehistoric white horse hillside carving. The other, unidentified body has not yet been found. The arrest at 11am yesterday came just hours after detectives put out a fresh appeal to locate a green Toyota Avensis estate with taxi markings that was seen near the Savernake Forest at the time of Sian's disappearance.
She was last seen leaving a Swindon nightclub in the early hours of Saturday morning. Mobile phone records placed her in the forest 34 minutes after leaving Suju nightclub, leading police to conclude that she must have been driven there.
Police arrested the taxi driver at the front entrance of an Asda supermarket at the Orbital shopping centre in north Swindon. Witnesses said officers ran towards a green Toyota estate which was parked in a taxi rank outside the supermarket and bundled the man into the back of an unmarked police car. Later in the day forensics officers searched a semi-detached property on Ashbury Avenue in the Nythe area of Swindon, erecting a white tent in front of a garage. A second forensics tent went up in a ditch just south of Uffington. Neighbours named the man as Chris Halliwell, who was divorced and lived on his own.
Mr Fulcher praised the public and the media response to Sian's disappearance, but urged reporters to give his officers time to formally identify the victims and inform their families.
"The public and the media have been a fantastic help in the desperate effort to find Sian over the last few days," he said. "This has of course been a fast-paced inquiry. Having found these bodies, you will appreciate that I am under extreme pressure to undertake certain actions and procedures, and I would ask you to give me some time to enable me to recover these bodies, with the dignity and respect that they deserve."
Earlier, Sian's family had issued a statement thanking the public for their support.
"The sheer numbers of people who have given up their time to help search for Sian and distribute appeal posters are overwhelming and we couldn't ask for better support from the public, police and media," the statement read. "This is an extremely difficult time for us and we continue to hope and pray that our beautiful girl is found soon." On Monday, Sian's boyfriend, Kevin Reape, had issued a tearful plea. "We all want to know where Sian is and we want her home safe and well," he said.