Suzy Lamplugh murder: Police search widens to patio area

Searches of a back garden in connection with the murder of estate agent Suzy Lamplugh have been extended to a patio area.

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, which had been centred on the site of a dismantled car garage, built on concrete flooring, at the edge of the back garden.

On the third day of searches on Wednesday, another blue forensics tent has now been set up at the immediate rear of the home and patio slabs could be seen stacked nearby.

Suzy Lamplugh
Suzy Lamplugh vanished in July 1986 (PA)

Excavations have continued as the officer in charge of carrying out investigations at the address in 2003, following a review in 2000, said police 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, the detective superintendent leading the investigation between 2000 and 2006, confirmed 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.

Hunt for Suzy Lamplugh’s body
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)

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.

Searches were carried out at the address in 2003 and into early 2004.

Insurance marketer Phillip Carey said he purchased the home in Shipton Road from Sheila Cannan in 1992.

“From our point of view, we bought the house 26 years ago from the suspected person’s mother, Sheila,” the 52-year-old told the Press Association.

“We knew who she was, we became aware who she was as we went through the relationship, and obviously it was high profile at the time.”

Asked if he was frustrated at the police returning to the property years later to continue the investigation, Mr Carey said: “There is an element of frustration.”

The married father of two said officers had searched the garden during a period from November 2003, and into the following year.

(PA Graphics)
(PA Graphics)

Specialist firm Alecto Forensics, which assisted with the investigation into the disappearance of Madeleine McCann, was at the scene from early on Tuesday morning.

The Met, being supported by West Midlands Police officers, stressed that the current occupants of the property are in no way connected to the investigation.

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

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

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.

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, claims were reported that Cannan had buried Miss Lamplugh’s body under his mother’s patio in the West Midlands.

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

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

The force has declined to comment on why the dig was to take place now, citing the sensitivity of the operation, but a statement said it came following “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 dug in the search for her remains.

Police twice excavated 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 and has denied the allegation.

Mr Kipper artist's impression
An artist’s impression of Mr Kipper (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”.

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

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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