Slipping Through The Gaping Cracks: The Murder Of Sarah Benford, UK.

One of two images from the police website.

Many years ago there was a lack of awareness when it came to the sexual exploitation of teenagers. I was a copper from 1985 to 1997. I can say it was the case. Blissful ignorance? In a way. It was not deliberate and as a street copper any traces of what was going on behind doors was seldom more than a vague hint.

Meanwhile from Jimmy Saville to Cyril Smith to who knows, kids were suffering, they were being turned out and turned inside out. Many will have ended up like 14 year old Sarah Benford. I can’t rightly explain how I can compare what I know now with what I thought then. It was another world? No, I guess that would be an excuse.

Sarah Benford Became Missing And Then Became Murdered

Please Note: A dig/search in an area around Kettering has commenced today 15/11/2021 following significant information. I will update if anything comes of it.

There does not seem to be any doubt that Ms Benford was troubled. When I read various accounts there was not a danger that this child was not exposed to. By the year 2000 she was having sex for money, using heroin and staying out all night. She had been in the care of Northampton social services and lived in a home that they ran. She often disappeared.

One of two images of Sarah Benford from the police website.
The other image of Ms Benford from the police webpage.

The family say they pleaded for her to be brought under closer supervision. Her mother, in Kettering 13 miles away,  says she particularly called for action from police and the council in the time before Ms Benford disappeared.

The pair were last together on 6th April 2000. She had called into an amusement arcade to see her mum. They had a minor argument and Ms Benford said she would see her the following day. That never happened.

According to an article (2020 in the Northampton Chronicle) there was a systematic failure in the care of Ms Benford. Cops saw her latest disappearance as just the way things were. Little was done initially to ask questions as to how she had been allowed to live a hazardous life style. The threats to her were known and recorded in official notes. In particular they recorded she was being exploited and they did nothing.

The article says that Ms Benford went into care with the co-operation of her mother. She wanted the young girl to get away from the thieves in Kettering that used her to steal for them. It also says that Sarah Benford had been on the radar of the social services from the time she was two. Initial notes when she went into care state she said she was having sex and using a number of different drugs. From what I can make out at this point she was just 13 years old. I wonder what was behind her behaviour? By the time she left the family what had she seen and done?

Kids of that age are difficult for the law to deal with. Yes they need protection, but you cannot lock them up. Yes those that prey on them need hunting down, but the youngsters often don’t co operate in naming names and providing evidence. There is a gaping crack. You have a child with their own view of the world. One that has often been corrupted years before. They don’t trust and they do not have the experience to see the dangers that are ready to swallow them. Ms Benford fell into one such gaping hole.

Police did start looking and over the years the enquiries became more intense. The family claim this was as they put pressure on them. Over the course of 20 years eight people have been arrested in connection with what has become a murder enquiry. None have been charged.

The now unsolved murder has no body nor any fresh leads. It is only listed as a crime because the cops say there is no evidence that Ms Benford existed after mid 2000. In another report a leading detective says that they are pretty sure who killed the child, but they do not have the evidence to proceed.

This is not a case like Roy Tutill or other high profile abductions. This girl was already plumbed into the world of drugs and those that love that life. On the evening of the 6th April she called her mother. She gave the address where she was and sounded high on drugs. Her mother contacted the police and pleaded with them to go and get her. After all she was missing from council care by this point. The article says they refused and so missed a great chance to change this story. In fairness I have not heard any response to that allegation.

There were some statements that suggested Ms Benford was alive for a few months more into 2000. In later years the arrests were made and places were searched. This indicates to me people occasionally stepped forward with information.

Her case is very similar in many regards to that of  Nobantu Mandy Zani who was found murdered outside of Bradford in 1995. Another troubled teenager who disappeared into a party world out of parental and authoritarian view.

I wonder if anything is different now in the approach of authorities? One of the issues we had years ago was a lack of power. For every desire to protect was a contrasting reason to limit what we were allowed to do. Yes, you can detain a person missing from care if that person is young enough. You didn’t have the right to go into private property to just search for them though. You had to know they were there for certain.

We often didn’t have pictures of them. A few times you had family resistant to passing on information for their own reasons. I guess I am putting up mitigation for myself and even the coppers in the case of Ms Benford. I could go on, but a righteous call to grab a vulnerable person does not give a magic power to do so. It does not give the resources to do so.

If as a copper I had been allowed to do what I thought was right I would have done a full 30 years service. Then again what I think is right and what some of society believes is right are very different things.

I take my part in being ignorant, but I ask that all others do. The damage to the kids like Sarah happens to the knowledge of many. Some may be officials and legally bound to act. They then didn’t. There are many that then point the finger at social services, police, medics and others. We should have just done our job. The problem is without information and without the general care of society that job can be impossible to do. General care that they need while out of sight of officialdom in the early days. Care from people who have a moral, not just a legal duty, to protect them.

What are your thoughts?

Take Care

Tim

The first article talks of searches made to open ground in 2016. They turned up a gun that they think had nothing to do with Ms Benford’s disappearance. Apart from that and removing old caravans nothing came of it. In the BBC article the police said they believed she was killed within days of being with her mother. The second article and the current police website talks of her having been alive for a few months.

https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-northamptonshire-35810396

https://www.northamptonchron.co.uk/news/crime/sarah-benford-story-kettering-teen-who-vanished-2530065

https://www.northants.police.uk/news/northants/news/news/2020/april-20/police-issue-fresh-appeal-on-the-sarah-benford-murder/

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