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Why are police searching incinerated waste for missing RAF gunner Corrie McKeague and what do they expect to find?

PUBLISHED: 10:42 03 August 2017 | UPDATED: 15:31 03 August 2017

Police are to continue the search for missing air-man Corrie McKeague. Picture: GREGG BROWN

Police are to continue the search for missing air-man Corrie McKeague. Picture: GREGG BROWN

The investigation into the disappearance of Corrie McKeague is increasingly focused on waste from a few bins behind a row of shops in Bury St Edmunds.

Graphic showing the routes of lorries which transported waste from the 'horseshoe area' where Corrie McKeague was last seen in Bury St Edmunds. Picture: ROBERT MCVICAR Graphic showing the routes of lorries which transported waste from the 'horseshoe area' where Corrie McKeague was last seen in Bury St Edmunds. Picture: ROBERT MCVICAR

The revelation that waste incinerated many months ago is being forensically analysed for any sign of the missing 23-year-old has come as a shock to some.

With police spending 20 weeks searching Milton Landfill and spending more than £1.2million on the investigation, they have moved to explain why they did not search the incinerator, in Great Blakenham, earlier.

The incinerator waste being forensically analysed comes from bins stored in the Brentgovel Street ‘horseshoe area’. This area in the centre of Bury St Edmunds is also at the centre of the mystery. The last confirmed sighting of Corrie, a Scottish serviceman stationed at RAF Honington, is on a CCTV camera overlooking the entrance to the ‘horseshoe’.

MORE: Police recover ‘material’ in search for missing RAF serviceman Corrie McKeague

Missing airman Corrie McKeague. Picture Archant library. Missing airman Corrie McKeague. Picture Archant library.

At 3.24am on September 24 he walks out of sight of the camera, and is never seen again. How he left the area without any witnesses or being spotted on any of the numerous CCTV cameras in the town is the big question.

The answer to this, according to the police, is that he voluntarily climbed into one of bins, one which probably did not contain food waste, and was tragically killed while being transported by a bin lorry.

His mother Nicola Urquhart contests that her son was not known to ever sleep in bins.

In establishing which bin Corrie could have been in, the route of Corrie’s mobile phone after 3.24am, which tallied with that of a Biffa bin lorry, led police to Millton Landfill, just outside Cambridge.

CCTV footage of Corrie McKeague CCTV footage of Corrie McKeague

MORE: Police agree to halt filling in landfill cell after meeting missing Corrie McKeague’s family

However, on Friday July 21, police called the search off after finding no trace of the RAF Regiment gunner, whose girlfriend April Oliver gave birth to his daughter in June.

Controversially, police claimed they still believe he is in the landfill – a decision which angered Corrie’s family who are pushing for the search to restart. An independent review by an outside force has been commissioned.

They then decided to search the incinerated waste which had been “held back” for investigation. The police believe they will find no trace of Corrie, confirming that Corrie was in the bin which went to landfill.

The 'horseshoe area' bins behind Gregg's off Brentgovel Street, Bury St Edmunds. Picture: MATT REASON The 'horseshoe area' bins behind Gregg's off Brentgovel Street, Bury St Edmunds. Picture: MATT REASON

A Suffolk Constabulary spokesman said: “The investigation has established that some of the waste collected from Bury St Edmunds is taken to Red Lodge transfer station and from there to Great Blakenham for incineration.

MORE: Father of Corrie McKeague blocks entrance to Milton landfill with campervan

“The strongest likelihood is that Corrie or anything connected to him would be in the waste that was taken to the landfill at Milton, rather than in the incinerated waste and this was the priority for the investigation.

“This is backed up by the fact that all the information that emerged as the investigation progressed pointed to Corrie being transported from the ‘horseshoe’ area in the bin lorry such as the weight of the bin pick-up.

Corrie McKeague's mother Nicola Urquhart addresses the media at a press conference after her son went missing. Picture: GREGG BROWN Corrie McKeague's mother Nicola Urquhart addresses the media at a press conference after her son went missing. Picture: GREGG BROWN

“And we also know that the phone travelled away from Bury St Edmunds at the same time as the bin lorry that collected waste.

“However, having not located Corrie thus far in the landfill site, a search of this incinerated material was required.”

MORE: Nicola Urquhart admits missing son Corrie McKeague may ‘never be found’, saying criminal investigation should take place

While police are now confident he is in the landfill, this was not the case for much of the first few months of the investigation.

The search operation for missing airman Corrie McKeague at the Milton Landfill site in Cambridgeshire. Pictures: GREGG BROWN The search operation for missing airman Corrie McKeague at the Milton Landfill site in Cambridgeshire. Pictures: GREGG BROWN

Their first instinct was Corrie had tried to walk home to his accommodation on RAF Honington where he lived with his dog Louell.

Calling in the support of Suffolk Lowland Search and Rescue (SULSAR) and the RAF Police, they scoured the possible routes between Bury and the base.

After police wound down these mass searches, Corrie’s mother organised the first public searches around the Barton Mills area, where Corrie’s phone pinged a mast at around 4.20am.

MORE: Mum of missing RAF airman Corrie McKeague accuses police of “giving up” on her son

Police had ruled out the theory Corrie was in the landfill, instead believing his phone had gone in the bin. This theory hinged on information that the weight of the Biffa bin was 11kg. This was turned on its head when they had the weight re-checked – it in fact weighed more than 110kg.

When asked how confident they were they were right about the landfill, Detective Superintendent Katie Elliot said: “We didn’t believe that Corrie could have been in the lorry as the weight was too low.

“[After the weight changed] when it became the right thing we to do and we believed that Corrie may be there we did it.”

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