Mother of missing Corrie McKeague says she is ready to start searching again
- Credit: Archant
As the two-year anniversary of missing RAF serviceman Corrie McKeague’s disappearance approaches, his mother opens up about theories, potential new searches and her first grandchild.
Walking through the streets of Bury St Edmunds on the day of her son’s 25th birthday, Nicola Urquhart says she still has “so many questions” about his disappearance.
Corrie McKeague was seen on CCTV entering an area known as the ‘Horseshoe’ – a bin loading area behind Greggs – in Bury at 3.24am on Saturday, September 24, 2016, following a night out in the town. He has never been seen since.
A multi-million pound investigation into the RAF Honington gunner’s disappearance, which included two searches of a landfill site in Milton, Cambridgeshire, yielded no trace.
The investigation was passed over to cold case detectives in March, but Mrs Urquhart claimed three weeks ago that new evidence had come to light that “changes everything”.
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However, Suffolk police maintain that the airman, from Fife in Scotland, ended up in the waste process system after climbing into a bin following his night out.
Speaking exclusively to our reporter on September 16 – Corrie’s birthday – Mrs Urquhart said: “It’s really hard to take in that two years on we’ve still got so many questions and so many theories and possibilities of what might have happened to Corrie.
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“Yes, some things have been ruled out but some things have become far more possible because we’ve been given new evidence by the police.”
The ‘new evidence’: Could Corrie have left the Horseshoe area on foot?
Mrs Urquhart said new evidence, revealed at a meeting with Suffolk police, has led her to believe that Corrie could have walked out of the Horseshoe area. Police say after “exhaustive enquiries”, they are satisfied he did not walk out of the Horseshoe area or get a lift.
“It was only just a couple of weeks ago that I’ve been told that the police never even got 12 hours CCTV footage of the immediate area, and that was despite me begging them up until the 28-day cut-off period to go and get more,” Mrs Urquhart said.
“But after 12pm in the afternoon on that Saturday, Corrie could have got up and walked out of here and they do not have a single bit of footage to be able to say that didn’t happen.
“But after just 7am in the morning, there’s five vehicles in this Horseshoe right now, he could have left in any of these vehicles and the police haven’t checked any of them. They’ve said there are far too many for them to be able to start tracing them all.
“So now it is far more possible, not just probable, that he could have left this area just a few hours after he walked in.”
Corrie’s phone signal
Corrie’s mobile phone signal was picked up in the early hours of Saturday in Bury St Edmunds town centre – as expected – but at 8am, it was 12-miles away in Barton Mills.
The movements matched those of a Biffa bin lorry, which had been to the Horseshoe not long after Corrie was last seen.
But Mrs Urquhart now believes his phone may have travelled alone in the bin lorry.
“We believe Corrie came in here to go to the toilet and to be able to take his trousers down he would have emptied his pockets first,” she said.
“So he could have walked in here and taken stuff out of his pockets and laid his phone on top of the bin and then gone away to go to the toilet somewhere and then forgotten to pick his phone up.
“When that bin lorry has picked up the rubbish, they don’t actually flip the bin lid over, the bin is lifted up and every time you do it whatever’s on top would fall into the bin lorry.
“So that’s why I think his phone has simply gone with the bin lorry.
“They have no other proof that Corrie went in that bin, they’ve done forensics on the bin, they’ve done forensics on the bin lorry, they’ve done checks and searches at Red Lodge.
“At each of these stages they are people who are saying they would have seen a person had they been in with this rubbish and they don’t have anybody saying that.
“Far from that, they’ve actually got the bin man saying that when he picked the rubbish up that day that he saw Corrie standing over near the wall and he’s stuck to that every time he’s been spoken to.”
Diesel the search dog and the A134
Corrie’s mother said she has also recently learned that a search dog picked up her son’s scent along the A134, a route he would drive if going from Bury to RAF Honington.
Police say despite a huge amount of publicity nationally and locally, there have been no confirmed sightings of Corrie after 3.24am on September 24, 2016.
Mrs Urquhart said: “When SULSAR (Suffolk Lowland Search and Rescue) came and searched on the very first day that Corrie was reported missing on the Monday, they had one of their dogs with them Diesel.
“Now I know that dog is now what the police and SULSAR call a proven dog, meaning it has successfully found people. I’m not exactly sure when it became a proven dog.
“But that dog was used that night and it picked up a scent and went down to Tesco. It then lost the scent for a little while and then picked up the scent again and started heading up the A134.
“It was only a couple of weeks ago that I found out that when the dog picked up the scent the second time, it then continued up the A134.
“Now I’ve been speaking to the police about that, and again I only found out a couple of weeks ago that they’ve only really searched thoroughly one side of the A134.
“So it’s not clutching at straws, it’s not by any big stretch of the imagination to say he’s woken up after he’s come into this horseshoe, he’s just simply walked out of the area or been given a lift and started trying to head up the A134 but not all of it has been searched yet.”
New searches for Corrie
After learning of this ‘new evidence’, Mrs Urquhart says she is in touch with SULSAR about launching new searches for Corrie.
She said: “I’ve asked the police if they would be willing to do it, if they wanted to do it, and I completely understand that there comes a time when they have to day ‘no, we can’t keep searching’.
“I understand the pressures that police forces are under with finances and everything and they have spent an incredible amount searching for Corrie.
“However, SULSAR is who they use to search every time they’ve gone out looking for Corrie and SULSAR are more than happy to do any of the searches that need doing. “So I am not asking the police to spend more money and do anything, they’ve given me their permission, they’ve given me the maps, the sightings, and they are aware that this is what I want to do and they have no issue with it whatsoever. They’re just not going to do it themselves.
“So I will be asking SULSAR, I’ve already been talking to them. They’ve been starting to look at the sightings, the places that have been searched.”
Mrs Urquhart has often been critical of Suffolk police over the last two years, but she insists the problems relate to communication with the force.
Suffolk police has continually highlighted an independent review of the investigation, which concluded a “thorough, methodical and detailed investigation” had been carried out in the search for the airman.
“It’s so difficult to say anything without it sounding like I’m criticising the whole of Suffolk police. I’m not,” Mrs Urquhart said.
“The rank and file officers that have been going out searching for Corrie, at the landfill, in the area, that have been talking to witnesses, I know they have done a phenomenal amount of work and I know they are desperate to find Corrie.
“My problems with Suffolk police have almost, on every occasion, been down to communication.
“Some of the decisions that they’ve made I’ve not agreed (with) but any family could be like that in any investigation, not just a missing person.
“They have made mistakes. There are times they could have put it right and they’ve not. But I’ve always tried to give them the opportunity to do it right. And when they don’t, and I’m left with no option, that’s when I will speak publicly about it. My son deserves it, I need to be able to sleep at night, knowing I’ve done everything I can.
“But more importantly, the next person that goes missing, they need to have trust in their police force that they are going to look for their child, their husband, their wife, whoever it is and genuinely do everything they can.”
A spokesman for Suffolk police said: “Our thoughts are with Corrie’s family and friends as we approach the second anniversary of his disappearance.
“As we have stated previously, the active inquiry into Corrie McKeague’s disappearance is now closed.
“Unless any new, realistic and credible information becomes available then the investigation is complete. There is no information available at this time that changes the status of the investigation.”
Support of Corrie’s Army
The Find Corrie group on Facebook has around 125,000 supporters and Mrs Urquhart said their support has been “amazing” and helps her get through “difficult days”.
She said: “I’ll never tire of saying thank you to the people on the Find Corrie page. The support they have given us from day one emotionally, going out putting posters out, doing searches, just spreading the news about Corrie, has been amazing.
“I have had thousands of messages today already from people saying we’re thinking about you and Corrie today. That’s lovely, that really does help you get through a difficult day.
“It’s two years on, he’s an adult that’s gone missing, that’s not normal for people to be so invested for so long and care for so long.
“I don’t know why they did with Corrie, I’m so grateful that they have but their support is just amazing.”
Corrie’s girlfriend, April Oliver, from Norfolk, announced the birth of their baby, Ellie-Louise, in June, 2017.
She first announced she was pregnant in January 2017, four months after Corrie vanished.
Mrs Urquhart said: “Ellie is just absolutely adorable. I Facetime with her all the time. We’ve got a piece of Corrie, we will always have a piece of Corrie now,” she said.
“I can see it in her, when I look at her the way she talks, the way she moves, she’s never met her dad yet she behaves like him and does things like him.
“I just love her to bits. She’s an absolute breath of fresh air. You can’t help but smile when you’re around her.”
September 16 marked Corrie’s 25th birthday and his mum and family members went to the Cheers restaurant in Thetford where she took him just a week before he went missing.
Speaking on the day, she said: “Today for Corrie’s birthday we are going to the restaurant that I took him to the week before he went missing. We’re going to have a nice day, we’re going to talk about him.
“We’ve got thousands of photographs and videos of him, and we’re saving them. We’re not trying to look at all of them in one go.
“So we’ll be looking at some more and just remembering the times we had with him.
“Corrie wouldn’t want us to be sitting here miserable, so we’ll try and have a nice day.”