Police 'bungle' search for child

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By Warda Meyer

A Grassy Park community activist has accused police of not following established protocol when children go missing.

On Thursday, a body was found on a field off Plantation Road, Ottery, and it is clear police suspect it is that of 12-year-old Jennifer Williams of Parkwood, who disappeared near her home on December 20. Although police have not confirmed the identity of the body, yesterday they took DNA mouth swabs from Jennifer’s family.

An angry Philip Bam, head of the Grassy Park Community Police Forum, said after the discovery of the body on Thursday: “If only the interest police are showing now was shown during the search, we could have had a very different outcome.”

He said the protocol set up to deal with missing children included immediately setting up a joint command centre to co-ordinate the search, but this had not been done in Jennifer’s case.

“We are heartbroken today. The local police continued to ignore the protocol for dealing with missing children, and even ignored instructions from their cluster commander.”

The badly decomposed body was found by a passer-by behind the old Ottery reformatory. Yesterday, Jennifer’s mother, Rachel Williams, said police had refused to let them try to visually identify the body.

Jennifer was last seen on Thursday last week when she went to her sister’s house in Parkhurst Walk, Parkwood. She had been wearing a black-and-yellow two-piece bathing costume. When she failed to return, her mother contacted police and reported her missing.

“We still don’t know for sure what really happened, or if it’s our daughter that was found, but everything points to the fact that it’s Jennifer,” Williams said.

She confirmed the police had taken mouth swabs to be sent for DNA testing.

“They told us it would take some time to get the results. All we can do is wait.”

Williams said the ordeal had taken a toll.

“It’s not very good at home. Christmas was especially very difficult. I had to put her Christmas clothes back in the cupboard.”

Police Captain FC Van Wyk said an autopsy would be conducted to determine the cause of death, and confirmed that DNA tests had been done.

“A murder case has been opened for investigation and police are urging anyone with information about the case to call crime stop at 086 001 0111,” Van Wyk said.

Meanwhile Bam said he was not satisfied with police conduct during the search and he planned to take the matter further.

He was also concerned that community members had been unforthcoming.

“Somebody had to see this child and the perpetrator who snatched her. Although it has not been confirmed that the remains are those of the missing girl, police should have done more to locate this girl. We as the CPF were not even aware of the missing child in our own area.”

Bam called on people to come forward with any information.

Hanif Loonat, chairman of the Western Cape Community Policing Board, said if Bam’s claims were true the local police should be taken to task.

“We cannot marginalise the CPF or our communities. They play an important role in combating crime. As part of the protocol, police should have called in the CPF immediately after the case was reported.”

But Loonat said when children go missing, nothing prevents the CPFs from launching their own initiatives.

Meanwhile the search continues for five-year-old Lilitha “Nini” Mgwebi who was snatched a few metres from her home in Khayelitsha’s Green Point informal settlement on Christmas Day.

-Weekend Argus

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