“A long time has passed since Charlene went missing, but someone in Blackpool knows what happens to her. I hope her friends, acquaintances and anyone close to those responsible will be able to find it themselves to do the right thing, and tell police what they know about her disappearance and the events leading up to it.
“The Downes’ family have had to live for 11 years without knowing that happened to their daughter. Hopefully, the offer of this substantial reward will move us a step closer to getting the answers they deserve.”
The reward has been made available through the Proceeds of Crime Act – using cash seized from criminals to help catch criminals.
It will be paid for information which leads to the conviction of Charlene’s killer or killer (s) or to the recovery of her body.
Detective Supt Webster said: “I am immensely grateful for the support of the Police and Crime Commissioner in sanctioning this reward.”
“Charlene’s body has never been found and we are keen to bring closure for her family, so they can pay their respects and lay her to rest. We need the community’s help to do this. This will be a difficult time for her family and friends and our thoughts are with them, as they always have been. We have maintained a relationship with the family during this investigation through specially-trained dedicated Family Liaison Officers.
“We appreciate that a considerable amount of time has passed since Charlene went missing but we would still encourage anyone with information to come forward and speak to us as it could assist in our enquiries, and help bring the killer or killers to justice.”
Charlene was just a 14 year-old child when she was last seen alive in Blackpool on Saturday 1st November 2003. Despite a lengthy and complex investigation and numerous media appeals, those responsible have never been brought to justice. Lancashire Constabulary believe that Charlene was the victim, in 2003, of offending that we now recognise as Child Sexual Exploitation. Lancashire Constabulary is committed to responding robustly to this threat at every opportunity.
Detective Supt Andy Webster added: “This new reward and feature on the BBC’s Crimewatch programme gives us a critical opportunity to appeal for information. We are determined to establish exactly what happened to Charlene, to identify who is responsible for her murder and who has assisted in disposing of her body.
“Whilst I appeal to the general public, I specifically want to direct this to several people.
“Firstly, friends and associates of Charlene in 2003. Now, a decade on, they will be in their mid-twenties and may now be more comfortable in talking about the events of 2003. They may have been previously spoken to by the police, but back then they may not have had the confidence and freedom to share with us what they know. In addition, the Constabulary has continued to learn about the threat of Child Sexual Exploitation and has specially-trained staff who are equipped to deal sensitively with these issues. Information from these friends and associates will be crucial to help us build up a clearer picture of Charlene’s lifestyle and to help to bring Charlene’s killer, or killers, to justice.”
“We know that people are more confident nowadays in coming forward to report on historic crimes and this may be the case here. Charlene’s friends, obviously just teenagers at the time that she went missing, will now be grown up and may have their own children. As parents themselves, I would hope they come forward and tell us what they know.
“Second, I appeal directly to those who know or may have heard what happened to Charlene in 2003. Their information, no matter how small, may be a vital. I firmly believe that there are people who know what happened to Charlene but have not come forward to speak to the police. They may have been present when she was murdered or may simply have intimate details as to how she was killed and what then happened to her body. For whatever reasons, they may have chosen not to speak out previously, but as we seek to lift the lid on what happened their information is vital to take the case forward.
“If their reluctance is due to fear of reprisals or that they were involved in Charlene’s life in some way, I would still urge them to contact us. There are lawful provisions that enable the police to protect witnesses but the first step requires them to come forward and speak to us.
“The CCTV image we have uncovered shows a blond woman wearing a three-quarter length coat walking from Talbot Road onto Dickson Road and we believe that this could be Charlene in company with her. I would appeal specifically for anyone who knows who this woman may be, or indeed for the woman herself, to come forward and speak to us.”