Wife and four children 'vanish' after argument

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The Independent Online

Detectives said they were "increasingly concerned" last night for the safety of a mother and four children after their disappearance was left unreported by her husband for more than four weeks.

Detectives said they were "increasingly concerned" last night for the safety of a mother and four children after their disappearance was left unreported by her husband for more than four weeks.

Lesley Ford, 36, and her two teenage sons and daughters from a previous marriage have not been seen since they vanished from their bungalow near Helston in Cornwall after anargument.

Mrs Ford's 33-year-old husband, Lee, was arrested yesterday by detectives on "unrelated matters" concerning an alleged benefit fraud as search officers were called in to comb the family home for clues.

Mrs Ford, a mother-of-six, who does not drive, has made no attempt to withdraw money from her bank account or contact relatives since she disappeared after the argument with her husband over money.

Detectives were only alerted to the disappearances last week after being contacted by Mrs Ford's brother to say that he had not heard from his sister or the four children since the end of August.

Mr Ford, interviewed by police on Monday, initially gave "varying reasons" for the disappearance, but Devon and Cornwall Police underlined that he had not been arrested in relation to the incident.

A force spokesman said: "Officers were not made aware of the situation until they were contacted by Mrs Ford's brother on 29 September. No previous contact had been made to us by her husband.

"Initial contact with Mr Ford produced varying stories as to their disappearance and he is helping us with our inquiries. His arrest, however, is for a different matter."

Fears that the missing person inquiry had taken a more disturbing turn grew after a tent was placed by the police search team over an area in the back garden where Mr Ford lit a bonfire last week.

Police sources said that officers were attempting to recover any fragments of paper or documentation that could give a clue to the whereabouts of Mrs Ford and her children.

The search came after police stopped Mr Ford in his car on the A30 near Helston at around 2pm and arrested him after concern that he too might have disappeared.

The couple, who have been married for 10 years, moved to Cornwall from Telford, Shropshire, five years ago. They have two younger children, who were last night believed to be in the care of relatives.

The four missing children - Sarah Jane, 17, Anne Marie, 16, Steven, 14, and Craig, 13 - moved with their mother. They have retained the name of their father, Tranter.

Sarah Jane, who worked at a McDonald's restaurant in Falmouth, has not been at work since August, while the remaining children have not attended their school, Helston Community College, this term.

An 18-year-old neighboursaid: "There were quite a few arguments before [Mrs Ford] left. Mr Ford said they had been having arguments and his wife just upped and left."

Detectives, who said it was not believed that Mr Ford was attempting to leave the area when he was detained, said there were no signs yet that Mrs Ford and her children had fallen foul of a crime.

Detective Superintendent Chris Boarland, the officer leading the search, said: "This is not a murder inquiry. There is no evidence to suggest that the family has come to any harm at this time."

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