Belfast Telegraph

It’s so hard to cope but we are praying Nora can be found, says Belfast aunt of teen missing in Malaysia

Child protection specialist  says UK can offer expert help

Nora Quoirin
Nora Quoirin
Malaysian divers take part in a search and rescue operation for missing Nora Quoirin
A K-9 unit takes part in a search and rescue operation for missing Nora Quoirin
Malaysian divers
Claire McNeilly

By Claire McNeilly

The distraught Belfast aunt of 15-year-old Nora Quoirin who vanished without trace from a Malaysian nature reserve fought back tears as she told how her niece’s disappearance had traumatised the family.

Nora’s family believe she has been abducted after she was discovered missing from her hotel bedroom shortly after arriving at the remote holiday resort near Seremban, about 39 miles south of Kuala Lumpur.

More than 200 officers are currently involved in the ongoing search, which is focused on the rainforest around the Dusun resort, and her grandfather has described the situation as “extremely mysterious”.

Nora’s aunts Eadaoin and Aisling Agnew and her uncle Micheal Agnew, who have flown out to south-east Asia to help look for the missing teenager, last night spoke of their heartache as the hunt for Nora continued.

“Our family is unable to deal with this at the moment,” said Eadaoin, her voice breaking as she struggled to hold back tears.

“But we must remain hopeful and we ask everyone to keep Nora in their thoughts and to continue to support the ongoing search for her.

“Nora is still missing and she is very vulnerable and we need to do everything we can to bring her home.”

Nora’s family also issued a statement last night thanking everyone who has offered assistance during the dark days and nights since the young girl’s disappearance on August 3.

“Nora’s family wish to express their deepest gratitude for the Royal Malaysian Police force, the search and rescue teams, and emergency services, for all they have done for us in this difficult time,” it said.

“We would like to thank our embassies, the local community and the staff here at the hotel. And anyone else who has offered help to find Nora. We also welcome the assistance of the French, British and Irish police.

“We are completely overwhelmed by the support we have received from all over the world. This is extremely traumatic for the whole family.

“Meabh and Sebastien are devastated and too upset to speak themselves at this time.

“We are extremely thankful to The Lucie Blackman Trust for their ongoing support. They are handling all media enquiries for us and everything should be directed to them. Our family cannot face dealing with that at the moment.

“But we must remain hopeful. And we ask everyone to keep Nora in their thoughts, and to continue to support the ongoing search for her. Nora is still missing, and she is very vulnerable, and we need to do everything we can to bring her home.”

Nora, her French dad Sebastian, mum Meabh, who is from Belfast, and her younger brother and sister arrived at the resort on Saturday for a two-week stay.

It was her father who subsequently raised the alarm at 8am local time the following day when he realised she was gone.

Her grandfather Sylvain Quoirin said it was “unthinkable” that the teen, who has special needs, had left on her own.

“She’s a young girl who is very shy, very reserved, very fearful,” Mr Quoirin said.

“It is completely unthinkable that she should have gone out on her own at night, you can completely exclude that possibility.”

Meanwhile, top child protection officer Jim Gamble said the National Crime Agency (NCA) should assist in the hunt for Nora because it has “the expertise to support the Malaysian authorities in a way that I don’t believe anyone else has”.

“I’ve been calling publicly from day one — and I’m continuing to call — for the National Crime Agency to be involved,” the former chief executive of the Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre said.

“The NCA can bring additional resources, credible experience and, critically, operate in support of the Malaysian police. The Malaysian police are working hard through the missing persons scenario. The other scenarios can best be addressed if they are supported by the NCA.

“This is such a rare type of investigation. There are only three historically that I can think of in my lifetime and therefore there are very few organisations that have the expertise to do it.”

Mr Gamble, one of the UK’s most high profile experts on child protection and former head of Special Branch in Belfast, added: “It’s in no way to undermine the approach of the Malaysian police. It’s simply a recognition that these instances in these circumstances are so rare that very few organisations have the corporate memory, the technical ability and operational experience to deal with them, and the NCA certainly does.”

Although Nora’s disappearance has been classified as a missing person case, deputy state police chief Senior Assistant Commissioner Che Zakaria Othman said investigations were covering “every possible angle”, while it is understood that Malaysian police have also questioned at least 20 people in the search for Nora.

Mr Gamble, who investigated the disappearance of English girl Madeline McCann in Portugal, has been providing support to Nora’s family after being contacted earlier this week.

“We’re in the critical stage now and I am desperately hoping for the best,” he said.

“Even this far into it, there is still hope. We’ve got to hope that they’ve got the right resources at their disposal in Malaysia.”

The former detective said Nora’s mum and dad “are living every parent’s worst nightmare”. “They’re in a foreign country, anxiety will be high, there will be cultural issues and some language issues,” he said.

“They’re maintaining a quiet dignity while they deal with the horror that they’re going through.”

The former RUC and PSNI officer said there are three possibilities as to what happened to Nora, namely that she wandered off and went missing, was harmed by someone, or fell victim to an abduction.

“Children go missing from where they live on a frequent and routine basis but children going missing whilst on holiday in a foreign country with their family is extremely rare,” he said.

Mr Gamble, who is now the chief executive of the Ineque Safeguarding Group, stressed that it’s “so rare, in fact, that I can only think of three cases — Ben Needham, Madeline McCann and now Nora”.

He added: “There’s a limited pool of expertise when it comes to this particular scenario and that’s why I’ve been urging the family to request the NCA.”

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