Transport officer's lie delayed search for girl

Police officers involved in a search for a 17-year-old girl have been criticised by the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) for not looking at a railway line until six days after she was reported missing.

Natasha Coombs's body was found on 10 August 2007 near Manningtree station in Essex, a fortnight after she went missing. She had been hit by a train. Six weeks later, her mother, Joanne, 41, took her life at the same spot.

Natasha's father, Gary Coombs, made 11 complaints to the IPCC about the conduct of detectives from Essex Police and the British Transport Police. He said he believed his wife committed suicide because of the stress. The IPCC upholds four of his complaints in a report issued today.

A British Transport Police (BTP) communications officer stalled the inquiry, the IPCC said, when he "lied" to Essex Police that on-board train sensors would have alerted staff if anyone had been hit. The officer has since resigned after being told he faced allegations of gross misconduct.

BTP should have also begun searching the railway line earlier; Essex Police failed to examine train CCTV footage which showed Natasha walking near the tracks; and "inappropriate, confidential and inaccurate information" was passed to the media.

"The communications officer admitted he lied to an Essex police officer ... and that he actually had no knowledge of train sensors," the report said.

"The police did miss opportunities for a timely and thorough search for Natasha Coombs."

BTP said it had apologised to Mr Coombs. Essex Police said it was sorry for the delay in finding Natasha and accepted mistakes had been made.

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