Murdered girl, 7, seen begging outside pub

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NIKKI ALLEN, the seven-year- old girl found clubbed to death in a Sunderland warehouse on Thursday morning, had been seen begging outside a public house on the night she was abducted, police said last night.

Witnesses told detectives they saw her at abou 10pm - 10 minutes after she was last seen by her mother - standing alone outside the Boar's Head, asking people for money.

Northumbria police are trying to trace everyone who visited the pub that night in the hope of discovering the identity of her killer. A man rang their incident room on Thursday to say a 14- year-old girl told him that a bloodstained man she saw on Wednesday night said he had just murdered someone.

Police are investigating at least six attempts to abduct children in the Sunderland and Durham areas over the past few weeks.

Nikki, 3ft 6in tall, was beaten to death and left in a pool of blood in the disused warehouse after disappearing from outside her home in Wear Garth, Sunderland, Tyne and Wear, on Wednesday night.

She had followed her mother, Sharon Prest, 25, who is separated from Nikki's father, to her grandparents' second-floor flat less than 300 yards from her own home.

Her mother, who was in deep shock yesterday, had told her daughter to run home ahead of her to join her sisters Stacey, 8, Zara, 4, and Naomi, 2, with the intention of following a few moments later. Ms Prest even looked over the second-floor balcony to make sure her daughter reached the ground floor safely.

By the time Ms Prest had walked back to her own flat, Nikki had been taken. Her body was discovered less than an hour later by two boys helping to search for her. She was lying in a pool of blood in a derelict recording studio just a short stroll from her home. The building is a haunt for people sleeping rough.

The police officer in charge of the murder inquiry, Detective Superintendent George Sinclair, said yesterday that Nikki had not been sexually assaulted.

He appealed to an anonymous caller, who told them she knew someone who had committed a murder, to contact the police again.

'We are dealing with the murder of a seven-year-old child here and the information is vitally important to us. She can speak to any police officer in confidence or to me personally.'

Nikki's school friends gathered silently at their morning assembly to be told of her murder by Bill Cairns, acting head teacher at the St John's and St Patrick's Ecumenical School.

Mary Sloanes, 77, who lives next door to Nikki's grandparents, said that the dead girl had often run errands for her. She said: 'She was a lovely girl and everybody round here knew her. You just cannot comprehend how anybody could hurt a little girl like Nikki.'