среда, 29 декабря 2010 г.

Joanna Yeates may have known her killer, say Bristol police

David and Theresa Yeates lay flowers close to Bristol and Clifton Golf Club to pay tribute to their daughter Joanna Yeates, where her body was found. Photograph: Ben Birchall/PA

Detectives believe that landscape architect Joanna Yeates may have been murdered by someone she knew rather than a random stranger.

Although in public police insist they are keeping an open mind over whether Yeates knew her killer, privately officers think it more likely that the murderer was a friend or an acquaintance.

Extra patrols are taking place in the Clifton area of Bristol, from where Yeates disappeared, but police have not issued warnings for women to take more precautions than usual. A police source said the way the inquiry was taking shape was not suggesting there was an "increased threat" to women.

Operation Braid, which was launched after Yeates went missing on 17 December, has been ratcheted up following the discovery of her body on Christmas morning and the conclusion of a postmortem that revealed Yeates had been strangled.

What began as a missing persons inquiry headed by two officers in charge of policing in Bristol has become a murder hunt led by Detective Chief Inspector Phil Jones, one of the most experienced members of Avon and Somerset police's major crime investigation unit.

He is running the investigation, which involves 70 detectives, uniformed officers and civilian staff, from a large open plan incident room at Kenneth Steele House, a modern building on an industrial estate at the back of Temple Meads railway station near the centre of Bristol.

Yeates, 25, was last seen on Friday 17 December at 8pm leaving the Ram pub on Park Street, near the city centre, where she had been drinking with work colleagues. She was reported missing on Sunday 19 December by her boyfriend, Greg Reardon, when he returned from a weekend in Sheffield with family and found her gone but her coat, keys, purse and bankcards still at the flat they shared.

At lunchtime the following day police launched a public appeal for help in finding Yeates.

Her route home was quickly established. Detectives found CCTV footage capturing her at Waitrose, a five minute walk from the Ram. They also obtained CCTV footage from the off-licence, the Bargain Booze store, where she bought cider.

Police established that Yeates then went to Tesco in Clifton and bought a pizza. CCTV footage shows her standing at the till, apparently alone. Yeates left Tesco at around 8.40pm and would have reached home in Canynge Road five minutes later. Police know she got there because they found the Tesco receipt in the flat, but not the pizza nor its packaging.

The police use of the media during the missing persons part of the inquiry was textbook. They first released a description, photos and CCTV footage of her visiting Waitrose. Her parents made a harrowing appeal for information and then the footage of her at Tesco was issued.

But she was almost certainly already dead, and on Christmas morning a couple walking their dogs at Failand three miles from Yeates's flat found her frozen, clothed body on a roadside verge.

The discovery gave officers another crime scene and, of course, the body itself. The snow was a blessing and curse. It meant that any biological evidence would have had a better chance of surviving. The conditions also helped narrow down when the body was left there – it was covered in snow suggesting strongly it was dumped on the weekend she disappeared because that was when the snow fell in Bristol.

But the state of the body also meant the postmortem took longer because the pathologist had to wait for it to unfreeze naturally - a desperate delay for detectives wanting to know how and when Yeates died.

During their press conference police were careful to hold back details. They would not say, for example, if tests showed she had eaten the pizza she bought from Tesco. Though the body was clothed they would not say if Yeates had a coat on.

Officers are studying CCTV footage taken from the cameras on the Clifton Suspension Bridge – the most direct route between the flat and the spot where the body was found. But they stressed there are other routes the killer may have used.

While the police have released images of Yeates in the supermarkets, they are holding back footage seized from the pub, which could show people who left at the same time – and who she was talking with.

Though there had been a great deal of focus on it, the CCTV footage is only one line of inquiry. Police have had a "number of telephone calls" from people in the Clifton area they are chasing up. They have, of course, spoken in detail to friends and colleagues and examined Yeates's phone and computers to build a picture of her life. They have also spoken to officers involved in other unsolved murders of young women.

Over the next few days the police will be keen to keep the case in the headlines, though it is unlikely they will stage a reconstruction of Yeates's last movements this Friday – two weeks after she vanished – because it will be New Year's Eve and the streets will be full of a different crowd.

If there are no quick breakthroughs, Yeates's family could be encouraged to make another appeal for help. They are said to be keen to help if they can.

Yesterday DCI Jones asked for help to solve the mystery and ease the pain of Yeates's family.

"Someone out there is holding that vital piece of information to help provide Joanna's family with the answers they need and want," he said.
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