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Suzy Lamplugh murder: Police search continuing into fourth day

Specialist forensics teams are focusing on the garden of a house once owned by the mother of prime suspect John Cannan.

Searches of a back garden in connection with the murder of estate agent Suzy Lamplugh are continuing for a fourth day.

Miss Lamplugh was declared dead, presumed murdered, after going missing aged 25 in 1986, having left her west London offices to meet a mystery client known only as Mr Kipper.

Specialist forensics teams have been focusing their activity on the rear garden of a semi-detached house in Sutton Coldfield, West Midlands, which once belonged to the mother of prime suspect John Cannan.

The Metropolitan Police are leading the search at the property, where officers have dismantled a car garage and used angle grinders to dig through its concrete base at the edge of the yard.

On Wednesday, two more blue forensics tents were put up at the immediate rear of the home and patio slabs could be seen stacked nearby.

Investigations have continued into Thursday, with the house’s current owner, insurance marketer Phillip Carey, saying activity could continue into next week.

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Suzy Lamplugh vanished in July 1986 (PA)

Speaking to reporters on his doorstep, the 52-year-old said: “They could still find a body. It’s 50/50.

“The house isn’t a priority, and they’ve told me they’ll put things back the way they found them.”

Asked whether there were any signs the search was coming to an end, he replied: “Probably not today”.

The father-of-two, who bought the house from Cannan’s mother, Sheila, 26 years ago, added: “I would like to say ‘No, the searches won’t go into next week’ but I really don’t know.

“I just get told ‘This is what we’re doing’ and let them get on with it.”

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Police forensics tents in the back garden of the house in Shipton Road in Sutton Coldfield once owned by the mother of prime suspect John Cannan (Pete Byrne/PA)

Police carried out investigations at the address in 2003, following a case review in 2000, but did not dig up the garden.

A Met Police spokesman said: “In 2000, the MPS carried out a progress review of the investigation into the disappearance of Suzy Lamplugh.

“This review was in line with the Met’s murder investigation policy at that time.

“The review led to a re-investigation, under Detective Superintendent Jim Dickie.”

Mr Dickie, who led the inquiry between 2000 and 2006, confirmed that his officers did not dig or perform an “extensive” search of the home.

“We had no evidence or intelligence to lead us to believe that John Cannan may have secreted Suzy’s body there,” he told the BBC.

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(PA Graphics)

Convicted murderer Cannan, who is currently in jail for rape and murder, was named as prime suspect by police in 2002 and Miss Lamplugh’s death has remained one of the UK’s most notorious cold cases.

It is not the first time the garden has been the focus of officers investigating her murder, after searches were carried out in 2003, into early 2004.

Miss Lamplugh’s brother, Richard, said he hoped her body would be found at the property in Sutton Coldfield so the family could say a “proper goodbye”.

“It has been a long time and we have had our expectations raised before but it would nice if we could finally have some closure,” he told the Mail Online.

The specialist firm Alecto Forensics, which assisted with the investigation into the disappearance of Madeliene McCann, has been at the scene along with officers from the Met and West Midlands Police

On Thursday, white-suited forensics officers could be seen adjusting the blue tarpaulins which protect the scene.

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Convicted killer John Cannan was named as prime suspect (PA)

The Met stressed that the current occupants of the property are in no way connected to the investigation.

Cannan, who was jailed for life in 1989 for the rape and murder of Bristol newlywed Shirley Banks, was named as the prime suspect by police in 2002.

On the day of her disappearance, witnesses reported seeing Miss Lamplugh argue with a man outside a property in Shorrolds Road, Fulham, west London.

Three days earlier, Cannan had been released from a hostel at Wormwood Scrubs Prison, where he had been serving a six-year sentence for rape.

He bore a strong resemblance to an e-fit of the abductor and, according to reports, he was nicknamed Kipper while serving his earlier sentence.

In 2002, reports claimed that Cannan had buried Miss Lamplugh’s body under his mother’s patio in the West Midlands.

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An artist’s impression of Mr Kipper (PA)

A Scotland Yard spokesman at the time said the theory was “something we are currently considering”, but did not confirm reports that they planned to excavate the garden in the coming days.

The force has declined to comment on why the dig was taking place now, citing the sensitivity of the operation, but a statement said it followed “information received” by the investigation.

No-one has been convicted over Miss Lamplugh’s death and she was presumed dead in 1994.

It is not the first site to be excavated in the search for her remains. Police twice carried out digs at sites in Worcestershire, first near Norton Barracks in 2000 and then a meadow several miles away in 2010.

Cannan, now 64, has been questioned several times over the murder but continues to deny the allegation.

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A previous search took place near Norton Barracks (David Jones/PA)

Miss Lamplugh’s parents, Paul and Diana, set up the Suzy Lamplugh Trust to support victims of stalking. Both died before seeing their daughter’s killer brought to justice.

The trust said the latest development is a reminder of the “continuing tragedy”, adding: “The thoughts of everyone at Suzy Lamplugh Trust are with Suzy’s family today.”

Cannan was ordered to serve a minimum of 35 years in prison, meaning he would be eligible to be considered for parole from 2024.

But the then Lord Chief Justice, Lord Lane, said he would “probably never be safe to release”.

House-holder Mr Carey said the latest search is a “surreal” experience, and added: “Either (the property) is eliminated from it entirely or, if there is something found, it’s closure for the family, and this tragic story can come to an end.”

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