POLICE searching for Rosie Palmer, three, who disappeared after going to buy an ice lolly, said last night that the chances of finding her alive were 'very slim'.
After three days of door-to-door inquiries, searches around her home in Harltepool and public appeals, officers believe the red- haired girl with glasses who vanished on Thursday during a walk of just 20 yards to an ice-cream van has been abducted.
The paedophile unit of the National Criminal Intelligence Service and the child sex offender database in Derby are involved in the investigation. Both log convicted and suspected sex offenders against children.
Superintendent Doug Smith, of Cleveland Police, said: 'The fact that no one has come forward gives us great concern that she's been abducted from outside her house or from very close by.'
Rosie's mother, Beverley, 36, an auxiliary midwife, made an anguished plea for her safe return: 'I just want my daughter back. She is only three and if someone has got her, please let her go.'
Rosie's stepfather and grandfather have made their own appeals for the return of 'a little angel'. Yesterday, Supt Smith reiterated them. 'Please realise her parents are very upset and desperately miss their little girl,' he said.
Despite extensive inquiries and searches involving local volunteers, an ice-cream vendor, Gary Amerigo, remains the last person to see the little girl, in her red-and- white check shorts and her daisy- print white T-shirt. Yesterday he said he remembered her coming to his van and buying the lolly.
Officers have interviewed Martin Palmer, Rosie's natural father - her parents are divorced - but they emphasise that he is not under suspicion.