Digging begins on German riverbank in search of Katrice Lee

Digging begins on German riverbank as Army police hunt for British soldier’s two-year-old daughter who disappeared 36 years ago while out shopping with her mother

  • Katrice Lee went missing from a shop near a military base in Germany in 1981
  • She had turned two years old that day and was shopping with her mother Sharon
  • Military police today started digging on the River Alme’s banks in Paderborn

Military police have started digging up land in search for a British toddler who vanished 36 years ago.

Police are digging up a riverbank as they hunt for any trace of Katrice Lee, who went missing on her second birthday.  

A hundred soldiers will spend five weeks on a forensic excavation of the banks of the river Alme in Paderborn, a city in eastern North Rhine-Westphalia. 

Katrice disappeared from the NAAFI shopping centre in Schloss Neuhaus, close to the military base where her father was stationed for the Army, on November 28 1981.

Military Police are digging up a riverbank as they look for any trace of Katrice Lee, who went missing on her second birthday

The search effort is focused on the banks of the River Alme in northern, rural Germany

She turned two years old that day and had been shopping with her mother Sharon.

Despite a vast search effort undertaken at the time by the Royal Military Police (RMP), German police, British troops and volunteers, the trail went cold.

The case, which has chilling similarities to season two of BBC drama The Missing, remains unsolved. 

Katrice Lee vanished in 1981 on her second birthday at the base in Paderborn where her soldier father was stationed 

Katrice’s mother Sharon, now 64, said the toddler was ‘gone in a matter of seconds’. She added: ‘It’s living a nightmare that you never wake up from.

‘Nearly 37 years ago we became members of an exclusive club we didn’t ask for membership of — we became parents of a missing daughter. 

‘I would dearly love to be able to revoke that membership.’

Investigators believe Katrice, who had been shopping with her mother when she disappeared, may still be alive having been abducted but have little memory of her early years

British soldiers are searching an area near a riverbank in northwest Germany as they hunt for missing Katrice Lee

German Police help British Royal Military police in their search for missing Katrice Lee 

The Royal Military Police is carrying out a five-week excavation of the banks of the River Alme in Paderborn

She told The Sun: ‘The next five weeks is a double-edged sword for us as a family. We desperately want Katrice to be found but we also know that if anything is discovered during this search then my daughter’s life would have been ended in very unsavoury circumstances.

‘That’s another emotion we have to learn to live with.’ 

The case was reopened in 2000 and led to the arrest of a former soldier. 

But he was released without charge and the case closed again after three years. There were further inquiries in 2012 when Royal Military Police chiefs admitted mistakes were made during the initial investigation.

Katrice went missing on 28 November 1981 – her second birthday – while out shopping with her mother Sharon

Katrice Lee was snatched from a supermarket while out shopping with her mother (pictured)

Sharon and Richard Lee, the parents of Katrice, who are desperately hoping the search will find what happened to their daughter

Katrice’s mother Sharon, now 64, said the toddler was ‘gone in a matter of seconds’

The RMP announced on Monday that it would be carrying out a dig on the River Alme’s banksat Paderborner Str, Paderborn.

It followed a reanalysis of evidence gathered during the original investigation, which pinpointed the river as an area of interest, the force said.

The ‘detailed excavation’ of the site is expected to last around five weeks. 

Senior investigating officer Richard O’Leary, of the RMP, said: ‘The aim of the search is to find evidence that could finally shed light on what happened to Katrice.’

A man was seen climbing into a green saloon with a child matching Katrice’s description (pictured: the photo-fit of the man)

He renewed an appeal for information about a man seen at the shopping centre placing a child matching the toddler’s description into a green saloon car.

‘A green saloon car was also seen on the River Alme Bridge near the NAAFI the day after Katrice disappeared. It may or may not be the same car, but we are very keen to identify this car,’ he added.

A photo-fit of the man has been reissued as part of the fresh appeal.

Anyone from the Paderborn area who owned such a car at the time is asked to approach police so they can be ruled out of the inquiry.

But the possibility remains that Katrice is still alive – now aged 38 – having been abducted and raised with little memory of her early years, investigators believe.

This is what police believe Katrice would look like today – she went missing in November 1981

She was born with a distinctive eye condition in her left eye which would have required two medical operations to correct.

Mr O’Leary said: ‘An age progression image of what Katrice may look like now, aged 38, has been produced.

‘If anyone feels they know someone who looks like this, or believes they could be Katrice, then we would encourage them to come forward.’

Katrice’s father Richard, now 68, who has split from Sharon, had criticised the RMP handling of the case, but felt his voice had ‘finally been heard’ at a summit with Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson this year. 

A hundred British soldiers will spend five weeks on a forensic excavation of the banks of the river Alme in Germany 

Police are investigating the site near to where two-year-old Katrice was last seen 

The latest investigation is considering the theory that the toddler was abducted and possibly taken to the River Alme

Katrice Lee vanished on 28 November 1981, her second birthday, as her mother was buying treats for a birthday tea

He said, during the initial investigation, border guards were not informed when Katrice disappeared, statements from shop workers were not taken until six weeks later and information about an eye condition Katrice had was not made known. 

He added: ‘Hopefully, we can resolve issues and find out where my daughter is.’  

Mr Williamson said Katrice’s case was heart-wrenching, adding: ‘The disappearance of a child is every parent’s worst nightmare and I have been struck by the courage and dignity of the Lee family who have never given up on their search for Katrice.

‘As this major dig gets under way, the efforts and expertise of the Royal Military Police are behind the family.’

Anyone with information for the Operation Bute team, should call the UK helpline on 0800 616888 or the Germany helpline on 0800 184 2222.

Katrice disappeared from a supermarket aisle in the city where her family were stationed through her soldier father Richard’s role with the British Army 

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