Belfast Telegraph

Diggers, dogs and deep probes begin new hunt for teen’s body

By Deborah McAleese

The parents of missing Caroline Graham never moved house in the decades after her disappearance in the hope that their teenage daughter would come back home.

But now, 23 years later, the distraught couple may at last find closure as detectives begin to unravel a mystery that has remained unsolved since the 1980s.

New information and modern technology could lead officers to a breakthrough in the disappearance of Caroline.

The 19-year-old vanished without a trace in 1989 after leaving her mother’s Newry home to travel to Portadown where she shared a house with her boyfriend.

Despite years of searching by her family, numerous appeals by the National Missing Persons Helpline, intensive police inquiries and the excavation of a site in Portadown as part of a police investigation, no sign of Caroline has ever been detected.

In August this year, more than two decades after she was reported missing, police launched a murder inquiry following the receipt of “new information.” On Monday, as part of the new murder probe, detectives began a search operation in Portadown in the hope of locating Caroline’s remains.

For over two decades, the 19-year-old’s parents have agonised night and day over what could possibly have happened to their beloved daughter.

Her mother Barbara said Caroline was a happy and carefree young girl when she disappeared on Easter Sunday in 1989. She left the family home to travel to Portadown where she was living with her boyfriend in Hanover Street. Her mother gave her some money for a taxi to the train station. She never saw her again.

After Caroline failed to contact her mother for a number of days, Barbara went to Portadown to check on her, but discovered that she had not been seen in over a week. Frantic with worry, she immediately contacted the police, but was told there was nothing they could do because Caroline was over 18.

The launch of a murder inquiry and a renewed search operation has given Caroline’s family a glimmer of hope that the riddle might at last be solved.

On Monday dozens of officers from the PSNI’s serious crime branch were in the area to begin searches on waste ground in the Carleton Street area of Portadown, close to where Caroline had lived. The ground was being cleared so that probes could be inserted as deep as five metres into the earth to try and detect any human remains. The technique has never before been used in Northern Ireland.

Detective Chief Inspector Gary Crawford said the search could be a “protracted operation” and will include a body recovery dog, earth moving machinery and specialist scanning equipment.

In 2000, following a review of the case, one person was arrested in connection with the teenager’s disappearance but no charges were ever brought.

At the time, police also carried out a search of the same area that they moved into on Monday. But back then, the search failed to locate anything.

However, police have received new information about the possible location of Caroline’s body.

“We believe there are individuals or an individual in the Portadown area who know exactly what has happened to Caroline. We are asking them to examine their conscience,” Mr Crawford said.

For her family, this renewed search could finally help to bring them some sort of closure.

“All I want is the truth and to find her. I just hope this new inquiry will bring an end to our nightmare,” Caroline’s mother said.

Story so far

Teenager Caroline Graham mysteriously disappeared from her home in Portadown in 1989. The 19-year-old was seen leaving her mother’s house in Newry. Her body has never been found and no one has ever been charged in connection with her disappearance. In August, police launched a murder inquiry after receiving new information. A search was launched in Portadown on Monday by detectives hoping to finally locate the teenager’s remains.

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