3:56pm Tuesday 22nd October 2013
By Julia Breen
THE father of a toddler who vanished over 30 years ago says the discovery of a lost child in a Roma gypsy camp in Greece has given him fresh hope of finding his daughter.
Richard Lee, from Hartlepool, whose daughter Katrice disappeared from a shop at the British Army base where he was stationed in Germany in 1981, says he believes she may have suffered a similar fate.
Gypsies were camped close to the base near Paderborn, Germany, at the time Katrice disappeared and he says he recalls investigating officers speaking to them – but did not order any search of the camp.
He says his family was accused of clutching at straws when they asked police to look into the matter further.
The Royal Military Police reopened the investigation into Katrice’s disappearance last year and Mr Lee said he believed they were now looking at the fresh line of inquiry.
A blonde, blue-eyed girl, known as Maria, was discovered living with a Roma couple in Greece. They have been accused of kidnap and police are searching for her biological parents.
Mr Lee said: “The interesting thing is when my daughter went missing there was a large gypsy encampment near Paderborn. We had to ask the German police to go there and what occurred I don’t know, but we were informed that the police had spoken to the head of the gypsy encampment and he denied that they had taken Katrice.
“The McCanns have said that the fact this kind of human trafficking is going on has given them hope of finding Madeline. The missing boy Ben Needham’s mother says it has given her fresh hope.
“When Katrice disappeared child trafficking wasn’t spoken about and swept under the carpet. The good thing about these high-profile cases is that people are not frightened to talk about it now.”
The 63-year-old, who has dedicated his life to finding his daughter, has always believed she was abducted but at the time military police concluded she had drowned in a nearby river.
The Roma gypsy community in Europe is concerned about the impact the case of Maria is having on their reputation, fearing they will be stigmatised as child traffickers.
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