Belfast Telegraph

Friday 25 April 2014

Police prepare to bring missing schoolgirl home from France

Police were making preparations today to bring schoolgirl Laura Stainforth back to the UK after she was found safe and well in France.

Laura, 15, went missing last Wednesday with 49-year-old Robert Williams whom she met on the internet.

Laura's family were said to be "ecstatic" after the pair handed themselves in to the British consulate in Lille, north-east France.

Williams is expected to appear before a court in Douai today in connection with the matter.

Yesterday, Laura's mother, Debra Stainforth, from School Walk, Cleethorpes, was visibly shaken, her voice breaking with emotion, as she thanked people for their help in bringing her daughter home.

Detective Chief Inspector Sharon Fielding of Humberside Police said she was "absolutely delighted" Laura had been found, adding: "As soon as we knew she was safe and well the family were ecstatic."

Ms Fielding said police were working with the French authorities to bring Laura home.

She said they received a tip-off on Tuesday from a member of the public who believed they had seen Laura in the Lille area.

The officer said police understood Laura might have been chatting to Williams on the internet for up to six months.

But she said they would not know the full details of how they met and got to know each other until they had spoken to the teenager.

The detective said Laura and Williams went to the consulate yesterday morning, possibly after seeing appeals in Lille.

She added that officers set off yesterday to France and would bring Laura home "as soon as possible" but could not say exactly when.

"Her welfare is paramount and we need to ensure she is safe to travel," she said.

Ms Fielding said they would speak to Laura in depth on her return to the UK.

"The investigation hasn't ended today, it has actually just started," she said.

"We've got a lot to talk to Laura about."

The detective spoke of the reaction of Laura's family when they were told of her return.

She said: "They were absolutely delighted. They were really concerned because our last positive sighting was over four days ago.

"It was very difficult for them. Laura had never gone missing before. She's a nice, hard-working girl. It just came completely out of the blue.

"I imagine there were tears when they found out she was safe."

Laura's disappearance last Wednesday sparked a nationwide search and saw the schoolgirl's friends and family pleading for her to come home.

The teenager and Williams were captured on CCTV footage at Grimsby railway station on Wednesday evening.

Laura was then spotted by a member of the public in the Kent port on Thursday and was seen on the Pride of Kent ferry, which was travelling from Dover to Calais, that afternoon.

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