A lorry driver strangled his nine-year-old stepdaughter and then took his own life after arranging to take her with him on a journey in his vehicle "as a treat".
Officers found the child's body in a lorry parked by a Little Chef near the village of Warmington in Northamptonshire on Saturday afternoon. They later found her stepfather's body hanging from a tree in nearby woodland.
The man, in his forties, and his stepdaughter had set off early on Friday and were due to return later that day. The girl saw the trip as a treat and her mother had no concerns about the child's relationship with her partner before the tragedy occurred.
But staff at a haulage company raised the alarm on Saturday after the driver of the white Spar delivery lorry did not return to base. The vehicle was tracked by GPS to a rural lorry park by the A605 near Warmington. Finding the girl inside the unlocked cab, officers tried to resuscitate her but failed. The police then searched the area and quickly found the body of her stepfather.
Detective Chief Inspector Tricia Kirk, leading the Northamptonshire Police investigation, said: "At the moment, we are treating it as a murder-suicide. We believe the little girl was murdered and the man then committed suicide.
"Any death is distressing for police officers, but when it's a child and in such violent circumstances, it's even worse. I cannot begin to imagine what the family are going through, and we have family liaison officers with them trying to answer any questions that they may have," she said.
The girl and the man – who had been with her mother for around a year – have not been formally identified, but were both from the West Midlands. Their bodies were taken to Leicester Royal Infirmary for forensic post-mortems, which gave the initial cause of death for the girl as strangulation, and death by hanging for the man. The examination of the child's body did not reveal any other injuries or signs of sexual abuse but that has not been ruled out as a line of inquiry.
DCI Kirk said: "The man is part of the family set-up and they have a close relationship as stepfather and child. The mother was comfortable with the child being with the male, and there were no issues or concerns raised within the family. We are not aware of any family arguments and what we are getting back from the girl's mother is that she was happy to go along in the lorry and it was a bit of a treat for her.
She added: "There seemed to be no problems with the relationship and no health problems, so at this time it is very hard to understand why this tragic event has taken place. The mother is deeply shocked that someone she cared for could do something like this."
The girl was last seen by her mother at around 4am on Friday morning when she was picked up by the man from her home. The pair were spotted in Peterborough on Friday and police think the vehicle – registration number BV57 FMC – arrived in the lorry park later that day.
Police believe the girl was killed inside the cab while the lorry was parked with its curtains drawn, late on Friday or early on Saturday. Officers could not confirm whether the man lived with the mother, the murdered girl and the other children in the family.
The man was not known to Northamptonshire Police, but detectives are checking whether he was known to other forces. The lorry was last night removed from the lay-by near the A605.Reuse content