Missing schoolgirl Megan Stammers and her maths teacher Jeremy Forrest could be anywhere in Europe, police admitted yesterday, as Interpol joined the search.
The widening of the hunt for the 15-year-old and the teacher came as it was confirmed that police, along with the pair's school and Sussex County Council, had been investigating the relationship between the two when they left Britain for France on board a Channel ferry.
Sussex Police last night declined to comment on reports that officers had spoken to the pair last Thursday – hours before they disappeared – and that Mr Forrest, 30, was due to be suspended. It was also widely reported that a mobile phone belonging to Megan was confiscated by officers.
As officers in Britain confirmed there had been no new sightings of the pair since they reached Calais in the teacher's black Ford Fiesta, French police said they have agreed to search for Megan as a "missing person" but cannot launch a criminal investigation.
It is not an offence for an adult to enter French territory with a consenting 15-year-old and an official investigation could only begin if Megan's parents made a formal complaint that their daughter had been kidnapped or led astray.
Jean-Philippe Joubert, prosecutor in Boulogne-sur-Mer where the couple came ashore, said no such complaint had been received. He added: "In those circumstances, we can only intercept them after a routine identity check or if someone recognises them from their photographs."
But there is no certainty the couple are still in France, as under the Schengen Agreement travellers can enter 21 other Continental countries without showing their passports.
Chief Inspector Jason Tingley, of Sussex Police, said: "Although they entered France, it is possible that they are elsewhere now. Therefore our objectives are to identify where they are and for them to contact us, so we can bring Megan home safely."