Friends pay tribute to murdered arts student as police seek vital clues

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Friends and neighbours yesterday paid tribute to the murdered 17-year-old girl whose body was discovered in shrubbery near a Staffordshire beauty spot on Saturday.

Friends and neighbours yesterday paid tribute to the murdered 17-year-old girl whose body was discovered in shrubbery near a Staffordshire beauty spot on Saturday.

Heather Tell, who dreamed of becoming a professional dancer, had set off from home to meet a friend for a trip to the cinema on Friday night but failed to turn up.

Her body was found the following morning in bushes close to secluded woodland in Kettlebrook Linear Park, Tamworth. A post-mortem later revealed that she had been suffocated, but police were not yet able to say whether she had also been sexually assaulted.

The teenager, who lived with her father and elder sister in Stonydelph, Tamworth, was a talented performing arts student at Sutton College in Sutton Coldfield.

Heather had been due to meet her female friend at around 8.30pm at a poorly lit spot outside a local dance centre. When she did not arrive, the friend contacted Heather's father, who called the police.

Heather's body was discovered the next day a short distance from the arranged meeting place by a 17-year-old family friend who was helping with the search, which also involved dogs and a helicopter.

Detectives say the body was concealed but not buried and a detailed examination of the site and surrounding area was carried out.

Yesterday, hundreds of flowers had been placed under a tree 50 yards away from the spot where she was found, including one with the attached message: "Goodnight Heather, a lovely girl - so much to give, taken away so tragically."

Close friend Shelley Barker, 17, said: "Heather was very well liked, she was friendly and cheerful and always smiling. She always had time for everyone."

Karen Hall, a 33-year-old family friend and neighbour, said her son Stefan had waved to Heather as she set off to meet her friend on Friday evening.

She said: "Stefan knows Heather quite well, everyone did, so he waved and said hello. She was by herself but seemed really happy. She waved and shouted 'hello' back. Heather was such a pretty girl and so full of life. No one can quite believe why anyone would want to hurt such a lovely girl. It is horrible to think something like this happened on our doorstep."

Detective Chief Inspector Peter Hall, leading the 50 officers involved in the investigation, said: "This was a young girl with her whole life ahead of her. She has had that life taken away from her, and her family and friends. It is an awful crime against a defenceless girl and we are determined to catch the person responsible."

Police believe vital clues in the hunt for the killer may be held by local students celebrating their GCSE exam results. Groups of teenagers were known to have held impromptu celebrations in the woodland over the past few evenings and may have seen something suspicious.

* A murder hunt was under way yesterday after a man was stabbed repeatedly in his own home by a gang of men.

The victim, who has not yet been named, suffered severe wounds in the attack on Saturday night and was taken to North Manchester General Hospital where he later died. Police, who as yet have no motive for the killing, are appealing for witnesses.

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