Parents of missing Charlene Downes 'living in hope' 20 years after her disappearance

  • Report by Granada Reports journalist Emma Sweeney

The parents of a missing teenager say they are "living in hope" they will find her as they mark 20 years since her disappearance.

Charlene Downes was 14-years-old when she was reported missing from her home in Blackpool on 1 November 2003.

Her parents, Karen and Robert Downes, describe Charlene as a 'bubbly teenager' with 'an infectious smile' and are now pleading for anybody with information to come forward.

Karen Downes said: "It's been a complete nightmare for us, it's ruined and wrecked our lives in so many ways.

"There's £100,000 reward out there, it shouldn't be about money, not really, but please if somebody could come forward."

The couple believe "somebody knows something" and are urging people "not to be scared" of volunteering information.

Karen said: "It's gone on too long now, it's ripped our family apart.

"All we want now is closure and some justice as well, just to get some answers."

Karen Downes recalls the last time she saw daughter Charlene.

On the day of her disappearance, CCTV footage shows Charlene with her sister Rebecca at the Coral Island amusement arcade.

Charlene met up with friends later that day in Blackpool town centre before separating near Talbot Road around 11pm.

She never returned home and her mother Karen called police on 3 November 2003 to report her missing.

Since that day, police have made five arrests on suspicion of Charlene's murder but all have been freed without charge.

Despite an extensive investigation, there has been no trace of Charlene since her disappearance, and now a fresh appeal is being made urging anyone with information to come forward.

Karen Downes recalls Charlene

Police found evidence Charlene was a victim of child sexual exploitation in Blackpool, and their investigation into her disappearance uncovered an 'endemic' of child abuse and prostitution in the city.

Karen Downes says she was 'naive' to what was happening and "had no idea what Charlene was doing at the time".

She hopes to raise awareness of grooming and child sexual abuse so "this can never happen again".

Lancashire Police has now launched a fresh appeal for information is offering a £100,000 reward for any information that may lead to the conviction of Charlene's killer(s) or the recovery of her body.

Detective Chief Supt Pauline Stables said: “We have never given up on our quest to find out what happened to Charlene, and I know there are people out there who will have information which would help us.

“It’s 20 years since Charlene disappeared and people are older now and their loyalties, priorities and acquaintances may have changed and that allows them to think differently than you might have done previously. 

“In the past people might not have wanted or felt able to come forward with what they know and speak to police but now they may feel they can and I would urge them to do so.

“Even if you think the information you have is insignificant, please share it with us and let us be the judge. 

"It may be a piece of the jigsaw that we are missing; by coming forward and telling us what you know can only help us.

"You may hold information that is crucial to finding out what happened to Charlene.

“We want justice for Charlene, we want justice for Charlene’s parents and family. 

“Charlene was a vulnerable teenage girl in Blackpool who was being exploited and there will have been other children in the same position who knew Charlene and perhaps know what happened to her. 

“Perhaps you were too frightened and afraid to tell someone what was happening and who was involved. Now time has moved on, you may feel that you can now speak to us. 

“It’s not too late to get justice for Charlene and provide some answers for her family who have been suffering for 20 agonising years. We remain determined to bring her loved ones the closure they deserve.” 

The investigation is one of the largest and longest running in the history of Lancashire Police.

Our correspondent Emma Sweeney discussed the reward and the appeal on Granada Reports with presenters Gamal Fahnbulleh and Lucy Meacock.

Anyone with information should contact the incident room on 01253 607370 or Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111 or you can email a special address.