Town in shock as police hunt schoolboy's killer

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Rory Blackhall, 11, was found hidden under an old tent in woods close to his home some 76 hours after he disappeared on the way to school. He was fully clothed but after forensic tests detectives were unable to say whether he had been sexually assaulted.

Rory was last seen on Thursday when he was dropped off near Meldrum Primary School in Livingston by his mother, Michelle, 41, a primary school teacher at another school. Despite reports that Rory had been unhappy about going back to school, police said they had found nothing to suggest the boy had intended to skip classes the day he disappeared.

The acting headteacher at Meldrum Primary, Barbara Gregor, described Rory as "the ideal pupil".

"Rory was a lovely boy who will be missed by everyone in the school," she said. "He was very popular with staff and pupils. He was a hardworking boy who put 100 per cent effort into everything he did. He played a full part in the life of our school. His ready smile, sense of humour and good manners made him well-liked by everyone."

Rory's mother, who recently separated from his father, Russell, 42, had dropped Rory's 14-year-old brother at his secondary school in south Livingston and then taken Rory in her black Vauxhall Meriva to a layby 300 yards from his school, where he kissed her goodbye at 8.30am. The alarm was raised when the boy's grandfather, Michael Robertson, went to pick him up from school and was told Rory hadn't been in class.

Over the next four days hundreds of police officers and volunteers combed the area. The boy's body was found under a green, Outbound Sierra-brand tent, which was described as "old and in a poor state of repair", three-quarters of a mile from where he was dropped off.

Chief Inspector Jim Thomson of Lothian and Borders Police made an appeal for help from the public yesterday. Officers were keen to find the boy's schoolbag ­ a blue Puma rucksack containing his books, lunch box and pencil case ­ which was still missing. Ch Insp Thomson also asked for information about a "number of strangers" seen in the area in the days leading up to Rory's disappearance.

Detective Superintendent Bert Swanson, who is leading the inquiry, said: "It's undoubtedly going to be a complex and a major investigation and, indeed, one of the largest the force has dealt with."

Ian Stephen, a forensic psychologist who also worked on the Jodi Jones murder case, said last night Rory's murder was unusual because it did not create a picture of violence. "The circumstances are very unusual and it's an unusual crime in the nature of the killing ­ it was neither sexual nor violent.If it was a sexual assault, you could start to narrow it down to potential perpetrators and the same goes for violent assaults. But here, it appears that Rory did not struggle," he said. "It looks as if the person who killed him laid him out in the tent, putting him in a place where he would be found."

Mr Stephen said it was unlikely that Rory was killed at the scene where his body was found. "It's yet to be established where and when he died but I don't think he had been there long," he said. Officers sought to calm parents, asking them not to "imprison" their children in light of the pupil's death.

On the streets of Livingston, near Edinburgh, there was a palpable sense of grief. Parents, many of them visibly upset, walked their children to and from school. Mary McIntyre, who was close to tears, although she did not know the boy or his family, said: "It is unbelievable that such a thing could happen here."

Surveying the floral tributes and cuddly toys left close to the spot where Rory's body was found, Ms McIntyre, 55,said the death would have a devastating effect on the town.

"This is such a friendly place," she said. "Usually there are children playing in the streets after school but now it is very quiet. People are really frightened by this and upset at what his poor family must be going through." Many of the tributes described the youngster as "a lovely wee boy" and said his smile had "touched the hearts of those of us who don't know you.

"There is evil out there prowling around, and that is a huge challenge for any community to deal with," the Rev Colin Douglas, a local minister, said. "A lot of parents have had their worst fears realised. They are now all worried sick."

Uniformed police officers were standing outside Meldrum Primary and other schools in the area yesterday in an attempt to reassure parents, many of whom said they would continue to escort their children to and from school until the killer was caught.

One mother said: "My son normally walks to school on his own as we live close by but not any more. We've all read about things like this happening elsewhere but this is just too close to home."