The search of a Cambridgeshire landfill site to find anything related to the disappearance of missing Corrie McKeague has concluded, with no trace of the missing man being found.
Officers conducted a 20-week targeted search at the Milton landfill site, directed by the information and intelligence gathered as part of the investigation, and, while officers have been finding waste from the correct time frame throughout the work, no trace of Corrie has been found.
The search team completed work on Friday 21 July, having searched through more than 6,500 tonnes of waste.
Police have been searching the area where waste was deposited between Monday 19 September – when the new cell 22 was opened for waste deposits – and Monday 3 October, which is when police notified the site after early enquiries had indicated the bin lorry may be of interest.
23-year-old RAF airman, Corrie McKeague, was reported missing from Bury-St-Edmunds in September last year (2016). Since then, Suffolk police have been working through all possibilities to discover where he is. The work has been prioritised with the most likely scenarios being examined in detail.
“Having been through all of the possibilities in detail, there is nothing to support any theory other than that Corrie was in the bin. There are no further sightings of him on CCTV to suggest he left the area, and we have explored the other possibilities as to how he left – such as being taken from the area by someone – and there is no evidence to support that this is the case.”
One of these lines of enquiry has looked at waste collections in the area, with the suggestion of the possibility that he may have been picked up in a waste container when it was collected by crews.
CCTV shows a waste lorry made a collection in the area a short time after the last confirmed sighting of Corrie. The lorry was seized in the early stages of the enquiry for forensic examination, but did not reveal any traces of him. However, police have persisted with this line of enquiry.
Detective Superintendent Katie Elliott said: “This has been an unprecedented search, in the scale and amount of waste that has been examined. We have searched the whole area where we believed Corrie could be. We had compelling information that directed us to this area however we haven’t found Corrie and this is bitterly disappointing.
“We have searched over 6500 tonnes of waste, excavating a huge area. Without anything further to tell us where he might be on such a vast site the search cannot continue.
“Officers have been finding items such as newspapers and other material that have September 2016 dates on them. This is the time that Corrie went missing. Some items have been clearly identifiable as coming from Bury St Edmunds and this has confirmed that we have been searching in the right place, however none of these items have had any link to Corrie. We have also found items such as mobile phones, footwear and clothing and each one of these items has been checked to ensure it did not belong to Corrie.
“We have completed the search of the area where we know waste was deposited in this period. In fact we have searched an area that is larger than was originally designated. The work was initially extended to include areas containing additional waste dated in the correct time frame and was further extended in response to new information regarding the location of further relevant waste.
“Sadly, we have not found Corrie or any trace of his clothing or mobile phone.
“All the work we have carried out, particularly around the weight of the bin lorry collection, points to Corrie being taken to the landfill site.
“The search has been complex, systematic, thorough and comprehensive. Throughout the process the work being completed has been reviewed by national experts.
“The investigation behind the scenes hasn’t stood still while the search has been carried out, but all the information we have still points to the fact that Corrie was transported from the ‘horseshoe’ area in the bin lorry.
“Having been through all of the possibilities in detail, there is nothing to support any theory other than that Corrie was in the bin. There are no further sightings of him on CCTV to suggest he left the area, and we have explored the other possibilities as to how he left – such as being taken from the area by someone – and there is no evidence to support that this is the case.
“On CCTV he appears to be alone and we have traced and spoken to everyone who walked through Brentgovel Street around the relevant time, and none of them have seen anything suspicious.
“We know that Corrie’s phone travelled away from Bury St Edmunds at the same time as the bin lorry that collected waste from Brentgovel Street. The theory that Corrie was in the bin that was emptied into the bin lorry shortly after he was last seen is strengthened by credible information that we have obtained through our enquiries that Corrie had been known to go to sleep in rubbish, following a night out.
“We’ve explored every other reasonable hypothesis – and there is nothing to support any other explanation.
Exploring All Possibilities
Police have confirmed other details around the search.
Milton landfill site is over 48 hectares and accepts approximately 96,000 tonnes of waste per year.
Police contacted the site on Monday 3 October, a week after Corrie was reported as missing. As soon as he had been reported missing, on the afternoon of Monday 26 September, police began an extensive search for him, carrying out ground, air and water searches within the first week, completing initial background enquiries, while also looking at CCTV for positive sightings to try and trace his movements after he left his friends in Bury St Edmunds.
Officers had quickly viewed CCTV to track where he had been and determined that he had been seen in Brentgovel Street around 3.25am. While CCTV was being examined around the area for further sightings, the viewing was also moving forward in time and it was then identified there had been a bin lorry collection in the area around 4.15am – 4.20am on Saturday, 24 September.
Further enquiries determined the waste was taken to Milton for landfill disposal. This was the only bin collected from the area on Saturday 24 and waste from it was taken first to a transfer station and then onto Milton landfill site.
It is known there were several collections in Bury St Edmunds after the Brentgovel Street one before the bin lorry went on to other collections in Mildenhall, Newmarket, Soham and Ely.
“This has been one of the biggest and most complex searches of a landfill site in the country. This search process has been reviewed as it has been carried out and what we have learned and the expertise gathered during the search is now being called upon by other constabularies.”
Police were initially advised that the weight of the bin pick-up was 11kg however, following repeated checking with the company by officers, it was discovered the weight of the bin was much higher than originally thought – over 100kg.
Cell 22 was opened on Monday 19 September and waste from the relevant time period and from Bury St Edmunds was deposited here, as well as waste from other parts of the region. However it has been determined during the course of the search that waste may have been spread and moved across the area as part of standard procedures on the site. This has informed our search parameters. Cell 22 and its borders are where police have been searching.
The site is a combination of waste material and heavy clay soil – making the search difficult due to the intense physical activity of raking through the clay and the type of items that have to be searched through.
The officers carrying out the search have been working extremely hard in difficult circumstances – with the nature of the waste being searched through, safety considerations, the weather and the depth of the search required presenting a number of daily challenges. Throughout this time their minds have been very focused on Corrie and what might be found.
Det Supt Elliott said; “I cannot thank them enough for their efforts; in recent weeks searchers have been working in 20-30 degree heat while wearing layers of protective clothing – heavyweight trousers to protect from sharp items, face masks and gloves – and have needed hydration tablets in addition to supplies of water to combat the risk of heat exhaustion.
“We have been absolutely committed to finding Corrie and none of us wanted to be in this position, where we are unable to provide the answer.
“This has been one of the biggest and most complex searches of a landfill site in the country. This search process has been reviewed as it has been carried out and what we have learned and the expertise gathered during the search is now being called upon by other constabularies.
“We would like to thank contractors and staff at the site for all their assistance throughout the work.”
Officers have been exploring all possibilities since the start of the missing person investigation. The initial CCTV work has given detectives a good picture of who was in the area at the relevant times and police have a number of statements which corroborate each other after cross-referencing various witness accounts.
Police have been looking at what may have happened including whether Corrie got into the bin himself or whether it may have been physically possible for someone to have lifted someone of Corrie’s build into the bin between the last confirmed sighting at 3.25am and the bin lorry collection around 4.18am, and whether there could have been an accident or any criminal activity.
Officers have also looked at Corrie’s previous behaviour and have spoken to friends and colleagues about his actions during and following a night out.
Suffolk Police have commissioned a review of the work completed since the start of the investigation to see if anything further can be done to trace Corrie McKeague.
We remain open minded and should this review reveal further lines of enquiry that will help us find Corrie we will pursue them vigorously.
It is estimated the investigation has cost over £1.2million to date, the vast majority of this relating to the cost of searching the site.
The Police & Crime Commissioner for Suffolk understood the necessity to do this work and provided the funds for this search.
Photo credit: Suffolk Constabulary