14-year-old girl who went missing 16 years ago was 'cut up and mixed into kebabs', says mother in new documentary
Blackpool schoolgirl Charlene Downes disappeared without a trace when she was just 14. She was last seen alive on November 1, 2003. While her body was never recovered and no one has been convicted of her killing, authorities believe she was murdered just days after she went missing. Now, the case is being revisited by a new Channel 5 documentary, The Murder of Charlene Downes, after almost 16 years of her disappearance.
Charlene Downes moved to Blackpool with her mother Karen, father Robert and sister Rebecca four years before her disappearance. She was described as a loving daughter who enjoyed spending time with her friends and her sister Becky, her parents Bob and Karen, according to the producers. However, they didn't know she was hiding a dark secret. Charlene was one of the victims of what has been described as "endemic child abuse" in the quiet town.
Police spoke to thousands of people during the probe into her disappearance, and discovered teenage girls were "swapping sex for food, cigarettes, and affection." Her mother Karen spoke of the Saturday her daughter went missing: "She went out with Becky. I gave them their pocket money, £5 each," she said.
"Charlene was wearing my clothes, she was very cheeky," her sister Becky added. "It was very cold that night, absolutely freezing. Our plans were like any other teenagers — to go to the arcades and McDonald's and then go and see our mum."
Karen remembered her young daughter's final words to her. "I said to her 'don't be late home my darling'. And she replied, 'mum, I won't be home late'," she said. She has never spoken to her daughter since.
The investigation into Charlene's disappearance became the largest in Lancashire Police's history and was incredibly controversial. Charlene was reportedly lured into a gang for sex before she was murdered, Lancashire authorities believe.
However, two local takeaway workers who stood trial in 2007 were not convicted of the crime. According to Karen, both she and the police missed vital clues that her daughter was being groomed. She had suddenly transformed into a rebellious teenager after being normally quiet and shy her entire life. She began to misbehave and started to act cheeky and moody instead of being the "affectionate, loving little girl" Karen knew.
Often, Karen had no idea where she was after she skipped school. One day Charlene came home with £70 and wouldn't reveal where she got it from. However, her elder sisters, Emma and Rebecca, assured Karen she would be back to her "normal self".
The situation affected the family gravely. Bob, the father, turned to alcohol as a coping mechanism while Karen cried all the time. Robert Junior, their son, would sneak out in the middle of the night to search for his missing sister. The other two daughters dropped out of college and work. The couple briefly separated but got back together — although Karen admitted they will "never get back to how we once were."
Officers received a piece of bombshell information early on in the investigation. David Cassidy, a businessman in Blackpool, claimed two kebab shop owners — Iyad Albattikhi and Mohammed Reveshi — were behind Charlene's disappearance and her suspected death.
"I had heard rumors of young girls getting into vans and not being seen until the next day," Cassidy, who ran an arcade machine firm, said in the documentary. "I've heard people say Raveshi was seen in bed with three young girls and one of them was Charlene Downes. I was told that she had had enough and was going to go to the police and that's what triggered something in their heads and they weren't going to let that happen."
Chilling rumors began circulating around the seaside town shortly after Charlene's disappearance. One rumor claimed she had been murdered and disposed of in black garbage bags. Another claim was particularly gruesome, saying she had been killed and her body was cut up to be used in kebabs. "It was suggested in court too that, after she was killed, her body had been cut up and mixed into kebabs," Karen said. "It was horrific to listen to. As a mother, it almost broke me."
However, both Reveshi and Albattikhi have always denied any involvement in the teenager's disappearance.
Charlene was last spotted in a new CCTV footage that emerged in 2014 before police offered a £100,000 ($126,500) reward to locate her whereabouts. However, police say the investigation is still headed nowhere.
"Charlene was my baby girl. She would be 29 now but to me, she's still a 14-year-old girl," Karen said in the documentary. "I've often walked around and thought I've seen her and shouted to her. I miss her terribly, I miss everything about her and I just wish I could have her back. She was hanging around in takeaways and meeting up with grooming men but I knew nothing about that, but that was still part of her."
'The Murder of Charlene Downes' airs on Channel 5 at 9 pm on May 21, 22 and 23.
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