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Anniversary appeal to catch killer of Exwick schoolgirl Kate Bushell

Kate original appeal pic.jpg

Police enquiries completed - public thanked for their support

The murder of Exwick schoolgirl Kate Bushell remains unsolved despite detectives pursuing 10 new leads from a highly-successful public appeal launched for the 20th anniversary of her death.

This week detectives finished a fresh review into the murder of the 14–year-old having exhausting all new leads and completing enquiries into intelligence received.

But they have assured the public that the case will always remain open in a bid to catch the teenager’s killer.

Kate was killed on Saturday 15 November 1997 as she walked a neighbour’s dog near her home. Her body was found in a field off Exwick Lane by her father. She had sustained a brutal knife wound to her throat.

Last June a team of serving and retired detectives and staff, some of whom worked on the 1997 enquiry, began re-examining key evidence in the hope of finally catching her killer.

On the 20th anniversary they launched a major public appeal for people to come forward with critical and previously withheld information that may help to solve the case.

The appeal generated an excellent public response with 204 calls and messages into the incident room identifying 10 new significant lines of enquiry, including the names of potential suspects.

Over the last four months, detectives from the Major Crime Team have examined the public messages in detail and reviewed up to 5,000 documents, including an in-depth look at 30 original witness statements.

From the 10 new leads, a number of individuals named by the public have been reviewed in significant detail by officers but eliminated from the enquiry at this time. Detectives travelled across the country to speak to a number of individuals.

While the active part of the operation ended this week, the murder enquiry remains open and police stress that they will respond to any new information or evidence from the public.

The investigation team and the Bushell family this week praised the public for their support for the appeal.

Senior Investigating Officer Paul Burgan said: “We really would like to thank the public for the tremendous response to the 20th anniversary appeal which totally surpassed our expectations. It was more than 10 times the response to the 10th anniversary appeal in 2007. As a result detectives have pursued 10 significant lines of enquiry, including named people who were all reviewed in depth.

“Unfortunately, despite the volume of calls, that one vital piece of information still alludes us and sadly we still do not know who is responsible for Kate’s death.

“The investigation team has worked extremely hard over the last few months and I praise the dedication of the officers and staff involved. The active phase of the operation has ceased and all current enquiries have been completed, but that does not mean that the case has been closed. This murder enquiry will be subject to future review and any intelligence received will be assessed and investigated accordingly.”

Tim Bushell, Kate’s older brother, 35, said the family were extremely grateful for the work carried out by police plus the support from the public, and appealed to anyone who may still be withholding information to speak out.

He said: “I personally thank everyone who contacted the police to give additional information, as well as the tireless efforts put in by current and retired members of Devon and Cornwall Police.

“The 20 years of dedication, professionalism and effort put in by the police to try and solve Kate’s murder is staggering. I have been left humbled by the support and good wishes from friends, family and the wider community.

“My parents and I still hope that someone will come forward and that justice will be served. Again, we would please urge anyone who is in the position, but for whatever reason wasn’t before, to come forward and contact the police.”

The 2017 anniversary appeal asked the public to help identify a man seen with a blue car in a layby in Exwick Lane at the time of the murder, and another unknown man seen running frantically down a field from the direction of where Kate was found.

They revealed the presence of orange fibres from non-florescent workwear found on Kate’s body and a country stile nearby, plus the nature of the murder weapon used, a knife with a blade around six inches long.

Detectives remain convinced that the offender has a local connection due to the location of the crime scene, an isolated rural spot mainly used as a cut though and by local dog walkers.

Mr Burgan added: “We would still encourage people to keep the information coming as we still need that critical bit of information that could help us to identify and apprehend Kate’s killer. We are still looking for that one call from someone who may well be wrestling with their conscience and debating whether to call the police.

“This may be due to misplaced loyalty or they may think they will be treated criminally if they only come forward at this late stage. Let me be very clear, our priority is to apprehend a child murderer. If you think you know something, be brave and please pick up the phone.

“We would like to especially praise the bravery of the Bushell family who have acted with great dignity throughout the review and indeed over the last 20 years. We are extremely disappointed that despite a huge response from the public that we cannot bring some form of justice to the Bushell family and most importantly for Kate herself.”

If you have information to assist the investigation please contact police via 101@dc.police.uk or by phone on 101, quoting Kate Bushell murder enquiry and ask for the information to be passed to HQ Major Incident Room.

Information can also be passed anonymously to independent charity Crimestoppers via 0800 555111 or www.crimestoppers-uk.org

The charity has offered a £10,000 reward for information received through them that leads to the arrest and conviction of the person responsible for the murder.

For an in-depth look at the case and the evidence, please go to: www.dc.police.uk/katebushell


UPDATE: Family thank public and make further appeal

Twenty years on from the murder of 14-year-old Kate Bushell, her family has urged anyone holding onto vital information to ‘find it within themselves’ to come forward to police.

The schoolgirl was murdered as she walked a neighbour’s dog near her home in Exwick 20 years ago today. She was found in a field off Exwick Lane on 15 November 1997 with a brutal wound to her throat.

Last week major crime detectives launched a public appeal for information to help them catch Kate’s killer.

So far around 180 calls and messages from the UK public have been received through the police incident room and online reporting portal, almost 10 times the response to the 10th anniversary appeal.

This has generated at least 10 new lines of enquiry now being progressed by the major crime team.

Kate’s older brother Tim Bushell, 35, said the family were very grateful for the public’s help and appealed to anyone who was still withholding information to speak out.

He said: “As Kate’s family we have been informed of some new information being passed to the police amongst hundreds of calls. We are very grateful for this and it means so much to us.

“We maintain a joint view with the police that somebody must have that piece of information that will lead to the police apprehending the person who killed Kate. We hope that somebody may find it within themselves to let the police have that information.

“Today marks the 20th anniversary of the day I lost my sister in brutal circumstances. It is long overdue that the killer is brought to justice.”

Senior Investigating Officer Paul Burgan said anyone wrestling with their conscience should be brave and pick up the phone.

“The response from the public has been extremely positive – we have received around 180 messages and calls, and this continues to rise. This compares to 19 responses received during a similar appeal on the 10th anniversary in 2007. We are following a number of viable lines of enquiry as a result,” he said.

“However, we are still looking for that one call from someone who may well be wrestling with their conscience and debating whether to call the police.

“They may be having that debate due to misplaced loyalty or may think they will be treated criminally if they only come forward at this late stage. Let me be very clear, our priority is to apprehend a child murderer and clearly the overwhelming public interest issue is for us to do that.

“This is about doing the right thing and giving us the information we still need and I would just like to reassure any such individual that our primary concern is, and always has been, to apprehend Kate’s killer.”

Please contact police via 101@dc.police.uk or by phone on 101. For more information visit: www.dc.police.uk/katebushell

Information can also be passed anonymously to independent charity Crimestoppers via 0800 555111 or www.crimestoppers-uk.org

The charity has offered a £10,000 reward for information received through them that leads to the arrest and conviction of the person responsible for the murder.


UPDATE: Police pursue 10 new leads

Detectives investigating the 1997 murder of Exwick schoolgirl Kate Bushell are working on 10 new lines of enquiry following a new public appeal.

On Monday [6 November] the Force launched a major public appeal for information on the 20th anniversary of the 14-year-old's murder as part of an investigative review into her death.

So far around 140 calls and messages from the UK public have been received through the police incident room and online reporting portal.

There has been an excellent response and interest on social media with more than 97,000 views for the public appeal films.

Senior Investigating Officer Paul Burgan said: “The response to this appeal has been tremendous so far and each day we continue to receive more information into the incident room. As a result we have 10 new leads which have been passed to the Major Crime Team to progress.

“We would urge people to keep the information coming as we still need that critical bit of information that could help us to identify Kate’s killer. If you think you know something, be brave and please pick up the phone.”

Please contact police via 101@dc.police.uk or by phone on 101. For more information visit: www.dc.police.uk/katebushell

A £10,000 reward has been offered by independent charity Crimestoppers for information leading to the arrest and conviction of Kate’s killer.


UPDATE: Viable lines of enquiry thanks to public

Devon and Cornwall Police are pursuing a number of viable lines of enquiry into the 1997 murder of Exwick schoolgirl Kate Bushell thanks to the public.

Yesterday [6 November] the Force launched a major public appeal for information for the 20th anniversary of Kate’s murder as part of an investigative review into her death.

Since 6am yesterday almost 100 calls and messages have been received by the investigation team via the incident room and online police portal. There has been huge interest on social media from the public with more than 60,000 views for the public appeal films.

The Exwick neighbourhood policing team is conducting patrols in the Exwick area all week and the response from the local community has been extremely supportive, with people keen to assist with the investigation.

Senior Investigating Officer Paul Burgan said: “The response and the interest from the public has been fantastic so far and we are thankful for that. As a result a number of viable lines of enquiry are being progressed by members of the Major Crime Team.

“However we are still appealing to anybody with information to come forward as one single piece of evidence could lead to the identity of the killer.

“If you have information which could help us catch Kate’s killer, please come forward and contact us. That one piece of critical information may be just what we need.”

Please contact police via 101@dc.police.uk or by phone on 101. For more information visit: www.dc.police.uk/katebushell

A £10,000 reward has been offered by independent charity Crimestoppers for information leading to the arrest and conviction of Kate’s killer.


Can you help?

The public may hold the vital clue to find the killer of 14-year-old Exwick schoolgirl Kate Bushell 20 years ago and bring them to justice, say detectives.

Devon and Cornwall Police has launched a major public appeal for information on the 20th anniversary of Kate’s murder as part of an investigative review into her death.

Kate, a bright and popular girl, was killed on Saturday 15 November 1997 as she walked a neighbour’s dog near her home in Exwick. Her body was found in a field off Exwick Lane by her father. She had sustained a brutal knife wound to her throat.

Police are calling on people to come forward with critical information that they may have withheld at the time, either due to misplaced or divided loyalty, intimidation, or duress, or simply not thought relevant over the years.

A reward of £10,000 has been offered by independent charity Crimestoppers for information they receive which leads to the arrest and conviction of the offender.

The death of the St Thomas High School pupil is one of the largest and longest running unsolved murder enquiries carried out by the Force. Despite many high-profile media and public appeals her killer has never been found.

In June a team of serving and retired detectives and staff, some of whom worked on the 1997 enquiry, began re-examining key evidence in the hope of finally catching her killer.

Retired Detective Superintendent Paul Burgan, who is leading the review team and who worked on the original enquiry, said: “We are examining all relevant evidence as part of this review but we believe that someone out there knows who this person is. For whatever reason they have never come forward - we are now appealing to someone to give us the last piece of the jigsaw.”

In 1997 police pieced together Kate’s final movements with witnesses reporting various sightings of a blue vehicle and unidentified men who they still want to trace.

Kate began her final day like many other Saturdays. She went into Exeter shopping with her mum Suzanne buying a CD at Virgin Megastore and a comic book for her older brother Tim’s birthday, which she never had the chance to give him.

After spending the afternoon doing homework in her room she set off from her home in Burrator Drive around 4.30pm to walk a neighbour’s Jack Russell, Gemma, while her owners were away.

Sighting of a blue car

She was last seen alive at 4.50pm by a layby towards the Whitestone Cross end of Exwick Lane. Witnesses remember seeing her and Gemma but also spotting a small blue car parked in the nearby stables layby with a man stood with it.

Just five minutes later a young couple drove the same route and saw the blue car unattended. They did not see Kate or anyone else in the lane.

More than 2,000 blue vehicles have eliminated from the enquiry over the years but the car and the man have not been traced.

Senior investigating officer Paul Burgan added: “This man has never been identified and this is as crucial to this investigation now as it was in 1997 – he would have been in the line of sight of Kate. Who was he, why has he not come forward and why have we never found him?”

He is described as white, aged between 30 and 40, of average build and height, clean shaven with dark collar length hair.

The running man

Two separate witnesses saw a man running down the field behind Normans from the direction of the murder scene between 5.10pm and 5.40pm.

Mr Burgan added: “Again this is key. He appeared to be running out of control and very fast down the muddy slippery hill before turning back into the estate. He wasn’t wearing normal running kit and was in an area at a time of night that you wouldn’t expect a jogger to be. It suggests a local connection - did someone came back home dishevelled, muddied, possibly bloodied, or out-of-breath? Did they dispose of clothing? We need someone to tell us who he is.

“Both these men may have been there for a genuine reason. If you know who they are or if either was you and you were there for a genuine reason then please come forward.”

Kate’s body located

At 5.30pm a small dog was seen coming out of a gateway in Exwick Lane at the base of the field where Kate’s body was subsequently found. This was believed to be Gemma but there was no sign of Kate.

When Kate failed to return home her worried parents went out searching in vain for her and then called the police. Her father Jerry Bushell – out searching with police - made the horrific discovery of her body in the corner of a field off Exwick Lane around 7.30pm having seen the dog running loose.

Paul Burgan added: “From a parent’s perspective you cannot imagine what that must have been like for Mr Bushell to find his own daughter. The crime scene was horrendous and extremely distressing for him and indeed the officers on the scene.

“The injuries to Kate were the worst I have seen in 30 years of policing. She was killed by a wound to her neck; the injury was catastrophic and was caused by a significant knife with a blade at least six inches long. Who carried a knife like that around Exwick in 1997? There had to be some kind of pre-meditation; you only carry a knife like that to inflict harm, or worse, on somebody.”

Orange fibres

Another critical piece of evidence at the scene was the presence of orange clothing fibres, more than 100 of which were found on Kate’s body and a further fibre was found on a country stile nearby.

Mr Burgan added: “These fibres are completely alien to Kate and her home. They were almost certainly deposited by the offender.

“We have done a huge amount of work on these fibres over the years and they are quite unusual; they are made of a bright orange azoic dyed material predominately used in non-florescent workwear such as boiler suits, aprons and gloves. He may not have been wearing the clothing at the time of the attack but do you remember anyone with such clothing at the time of the murder – maybe they were acting strangely? Important forensic work is ongoing to try and identify DNA from those fibres so if someone does have suspicions, please give us that name.”

Local connection

The investigation team is convinced that the offender has a local connection due to the location of the murder.

Mr Burgan added: “The significance of Exwick Lane and where Kate was found is critical to this investigation.  It is a completely isolated rural spot used as a cut through from Exwick to Nadderwater and Whitestone, and used primarily by local dog walkers. It is not really known to anyone outside of the area.

“Kate’s body was found in a field which leads through to Kinnerton Way. She would have had to go down a country path and cross two stiles to get there.

“Unfortunately for Kate it wasn’t a regular thing for her to walk the dog; she was doing this as a favour. At that time of day and with the light starting to fade I would be really surprised if a 14-year-old girl walking a dog by herself would have gone down that footpath voluntarily. We suspect that something may have happened in that lane that forced her down that path or maybe she was unnerved by something she saw.

“The person responsible for Kate’s murder must have had some local connection to the area. It is just too isolated and too unusual for someone to stumble across that by accident. He may not have lived in the area – he may have had friends or family there, worked in the area or been in relationship with someone.”

Shock in the community

The murder shook the local community and prompted a huge murder enquiry named Operation Deakin, which has continued for two decades.

More than 160 detectives and staff were initially deployed to the case in 1997, with more than 5,000 house-to-house interviews conducted and over 5,000 DNA samples taken from individuals in the Exwick and Exeter area. Three suspects have been interviewed and released with no further action taken.

More than 800 mourners attended Kate’s funeral and a memorial water garden was opened at St Thomas High School, now West Exe School, by her friends on the first anniversary of her death in November 1998.

Mr Burgan added: “Kate was a very bright and well-liked girl. She was studying very hard and at a very early age had aspirations to go to Oxford University. She loved playing basketball and was heavily involved with the church. She was also extremely musical; she played the saxophone, the clarinet and the piano.

“Kate was popular and had a fun side. She was training for the Ten Tors Challenge with friends. She was a pleasant, very talented child and just had all of that taken away from her in a most brutal and horrific way. It is just very sad.”

Can you help?

Police are urging for anyone who has information, however small, not to hesitate and to contact them.

Mr Burgan added: “I am convinced that somebody knows or suspects who is responsible for Kate’s death; I don’t know the reason why they haven’t come forward. Maybe someone had suspicions about someone in their life. They may be protecting that person out of misplaced loyalty. Now is the time for those allegiances to change. If you may have pieced everything together from this appeal and realise the significance of what you have seen then please pick up the phone.

“This is the murder of a 14-year-old child and she was killed in the most horrific circumstances. Twenty years have gone by but that has not diminished the hurt and the rawness of what happened to her that night. Her family have suffered in a way you cannot imagine. They have been very brave and stoic and have gone on with their lives but they have lived with this every single day.

“That one piece of critical information may be just what we need – something which puts the whole thing together to solve this case and ease the family’s suffering. Closure is not the right word; you never get closure when you lose a child but this is about getting justice, not only for the family but also justice for Kate.”

Anyone with information is urged to contact police via 101@dc.police.uk or by phone on 101.

The Exwick neighbourhood team will also be providing a high-profile presence in Exwick this week to hand out appeal flyers and to talk to local people. A police marquee will be set up outside Tesco Express all week.

Information can also be passed to Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111 or via their non –traceable online form at www.crimestoppers-uk.org

Anyone who contacts Crimestoppers remains 100% anonymous. Only information passed through the charity will be eligible for the reward.

For more information please visit the Kate Bushell murder appeal site www.dc.police.uk/katebushell and follow us on Twitter at @DC_Police under hashtag #justice4kate


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