Charlene went missing almost 19 years ago – and her case uncovered a scandal of child sexual exploitation in the seaside town
The case of Blackpool teenager Charlene Downes is to be re-examined by an award winning private detective who specialises in cold case murders.
Schoolgirl Charlene went missing almost 19 years ago and is presumed dead but no body has ever been found and no-one held accountable. By her early teens, she had endured a troubled background and become the victim of abuse before being lured into carrying out sex acts for food in Blackpool back alleys.
Then aged just 14, she was last seen in November 2003 and her disappearance attracted nationwide attention as the search took detectives to Oldham, Denton, and further afield to Wolverhampton – anywhere Charlene had connection. A botched police investigation saw two men charged in association with her murder only be for the trial to collapse amid concerns over evidence.
The case uncovered a scandal of child sexual exploitation in the seaside town and its legacy continues to hang over Blackpool. A £100,000 reward remains on offer for information leading to the conviction of Charlene’s killer but those continuing to fight for answers largely do so in a bid for justice for a 14-year-old girl who never came home.
Hopes have now been raised for fresh answers thanks to the involvement of Jen Jarvie, a private inspector and policing lecturer at York St. John. Jen, who was recently named Investigator of the Year by the Association of British Investigators (ABI). has agreed to re-examine Charlene’s case after being impressed with the amount of hard evidence made available by members of the public interested in the case.
Her work examining the 1990 killing of Darlington care worker Ann Heron was featured in a Channel 5 documentary led to fresh evidence being uncovered and there are hopes that a similar outcome could follow from her analysis of Charlene’s case.
Ronay Crompton runs a Facebook group dedicated to gaining justice for Charlene and has worked with Lancashire Constabulary in a bid to pass on potential evidence and help victims of child sexual exploitation come forward. She spoke with Jen about getting involved and hopes one day to see an independent investigation launched into child sexual exploitation in the Blackpool.
Although not from the town, she became interested in the case after watching a documentary and has devoted a lot of time and effort into finding out what happened. She hopes that Jen’s involvement will bring new expertise and that she will be someone that interested parties and grooming victims feel comfortable to talk to.
Ronay said: “We’ve got to be realistic here. We can’t expect her to roll in after 20 years and solve it. What we are hoping for is new leads or details for the police to investigate. What we’re also hoping is that because Jen is a woman, there might be other victims who are willing to come forward to speak with her.”
Explaining how she got involved, Ronay said: “I was just on YouTube one night when I saw a suggested video with Charlene’s face and watched the first part and didn’t know much about it even though I’d been to Blackpool. About three episodes in, I rang my partner in Ireland because I was so outraged.
“I looked to see if there was a Facebook group and there was nothing except far right ones but I’m not far right and I want nothing to do with them.”
Speaking to LancsLive, Jen said she has been contacted by members of the public about multiple cases but rarely with as much evidence and information made available. She said there were no promises of answers but that she believes she can bring the case forward.
“I spoke with Ronay and she’d taken it as far as she could,” Jen explained. “She’s not an expert but from what I’ve seen she’s done a phenomenal job. Now it needs someone to take it forward.
“When I spoke to Ronay, she said we’ve got the police statements, we’ve got the fact she’s working with the police. That’s a whole different ball game – I have actual substance to look through.”
Jen said there were a lot of issues at the start of the case in 2003 but said it was good that Lancashire Constabulary has admitted mistakes and is “trying to make it right”. She said she will look at the case from scratch, meaning no-one is ruled in or out of involvement and that she would welcome any family, friends or interested parties to get in touch.
Jen said: “I agreed to have a look at it and that’s exactly what I’m going to do. Look at it with fresh eyes as if it happened yesterday, not taking anything for granted.
“Hopefully a fresh pair of eyes can unearth something that the police hadn’t considered or have naturally overlooked. That’s not a criticism, they’re only human.
“Perhaps we’ll get someone coming forward, this is something I get quite a lot. Some people don’t like to talk to the police.”
There is no timeline associated with Jen’s work and instead she says she will continue to be involved until she’s taken her work as far as she can and exhausted avenue. But she hopes Ronay’s good relationship with the police and the information available means there is a prospect of a positive outcome.
She added: “I’ve offered to look at it. There’s never any guarantees, anyone who says ‘I’ll definitely solve it’ is pulling the wool but I like to think with my background, my qualifications, the fact I’m looking at it with timelines, statements and an open mind, hopefully that might unearth something, might question something that’s been considered fact or someone might come forward.
“The goal is to give her a voice. There’s a lot of element to this, the grooming, the child sexual exploitation. Social demographics aside, it’s not about any of that, it’s to find out what happened, to bring her home for a funeral.”
- 11:22, 26 JUL 2022
- UPDATED11:24, 26 JUL 2022