FOUR clues could hold the key to finding missing Cleo Smith – as a former Met detective says she may have been snatched like Madeleine McCann.
Cops are searching for the fifth day after the four-year-old vanished from her family's tent on a remote campsite in Western Australia.
Last night Cleo's distraught mum Ellie told how she frantically drove around looking for her when she realised she was gone at 6am.
Officers have urged locals to check their bins for evidence as no trace has yet been found by a forensics team that flew up from Perth 500 miles away.
Cleo's sleeping bag and pink pyjamas have also vanished.
It was reported last night that up to 20 known sex offenders live in in the area, and a car was heard screeching near the campsite.
Police in Western Australia also revealed the tent zip is too high for little Cleo to have opened it herself, and they fear she may have been abducted.
Criminologist Dr Graham Hill, a former Scotland Yard detective superintendent who worked on the Madeleine McCann probe, agrees that is a likely line of inquiry.
He told The West Australian young children usually only disappear for two reasons: either they wander off and get lost or have an accident, or they are taken.
Dr Hill said: “Bearing in mind she’s only a small little girl, she’s not going to get that far.
“Little girls and boys get tired really quick and in the middle of the night they are half asleep anyway.
“The real complication, from what I can see, is the fact that her sleeping bag’s gone missing.
“I would say it’s a remote chance that she’s got up wandered off and taken her sleeping bag with her.
“But I think that’s highly unlikely because there’d be some disturbance.
“You’d see where she dragged the sleeping bag, and how far is a four-year-old child going to get in the dark?”
Four key clues
POLICE searching for missing Cleo Smith are faced with four crucial lines of enquiry that suggest she may have been snatched.
Missing sleeping bag: Not only was there no sign of Cleo when her parents woke, but her red and black sleeping bag was also gone. Experts question whether she would have taken it with her if she had simply wandered off on her own. Police released a photo of a similar bag, along with Cleo's distinctive pink pyjamas. They urged local residents to check their bins in case evidence had been dumped inside.
Tent zip "too high": The door flap on the family tent was had been zipped so high it would have been impossible for a four-year-old to reach, said Inspector Jon Munday. He added: “The positioning of that zipper for the flap is one of the circumstances that has caused us to have grave concerns for Cleo’s safety. That tent has been thoroughly examined by our forensic team.”
"Screeching car tyres": Deputy Police Commissioner Darryl Gaunt confirmed cops were looking into a camper’s report of a car heard screeching about 3am – 90 minutes after Cleo's mum last saw her in the tent. “It’s a little bit unsubstantiated but we’re not ruling it out,” he said, adding it was just one of several reports from people who noticed odd activities and noises overnight.
Usual suspects: Police said between ten and 20 sex offenders were known to be in the area around the Blowholes campsite, near Carnarvon, Western Australia. Detectives said they have spoken to them all to check their movements, and none are suspects at this stage. They also conceded said any kidnapper could have left the area before police set up roadblocks.
Dr Hill added the first hours in any missing child investigation were crucial.
He said: “You need to try and identify everyone that was on that campsite.
“Identify everybody, every vehicle, and make sure that they are seen and spoken to early on.
“Because there’s two things. One is they could be suspects themselves. The second thing is they could be witnesses.
“Ideally you’d stop everyone leaving the campsite until they’ve given their details and you’ve spoken to them.”
Dr Hill also believes the remote location is helpful for investigators.
He said: “The general rule of thumb is the less people around the more time you’ve got.
“So if a little girl goes missing in the middle of Sydney, then you’re fighting the clock, because you’ve got more people that have access to take the child.
“Whereas if you’re in a remote campsite, there’s fewer people around, then that’s going to give you a bit more time to play with.”
'RACE AGAINST TIME'
Police, SES volunteers and drones are continuing to search the area.
Detectives said they are holding out hope Cleo may be found alive, following the "miracle" survival of a three-year-old who spent three days alone in the bush in New South Wales.
But Insp Jon Munday warned she could “potentially be anywhere now” given that five days have passed since she was last seen.
He said: “We can’t rule out the fact that Cleo may be still in the area, we can’t rule out the fact she’s left the area and if she’s left the area, that is probably is our worst case scenario because that really paints a sinister picture with what’s happened.
“It is a race against time. We’re just trying to find answers.”
On Wednesday, anguished mum Ellie appealed for the public's help as she revealed the last time she saw Cleo.
She said her daughter woke at 1.30am on Saturday asking for water, then went back to sleep in a separate compartment alongside her baby sister.
At 6am Ellie woke to see the door flap almost open and Cleo nowhere to be seen.
She said she scoured the Blowholes campsite before getting in her car and “driving around everywhere”.
"We realised we had to call the cops because she wasn't here," she said.
Describing her panic, Ellie said: "Where is she, she needs breakfast, what is she doing? Everything's going through my head."
The mum says she feels “hopeless and out of control”, and added: “Everyone asks us what we need and all we need is our little girl home.
"She's beautiful, so sweet, she's everything you'd want in a little girl to grow up."
Police have released pictures of a red and black sleeping bag like the one Cleo used – which is also missing – and her distinctive pink pyjamas.
At the weekend police urged local residents to check their bins in case evidence had been dumped inside.
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