Father’s emotional plea to catch killer almost 10 years after murder of Norwich prostitute

The devastated father of a murdered Norwich prostitute has issued a heartfelt plea for information about his daughter's death at the start of the week which marks the 10th anniversary since she disappeared from the city's red light district.

Michelle Bettles, 22, was last seen during the early hours of Thursday, March 28 and Friday, March 29, 2002.

On the Sunday morning of that Easter weekend, Michelle's body was found by a local resident, about 20 miles from Norwich's red light district, in woodland by the side of a country track in Scarning, near Dereham. She had been strangled.

Exactly what happened to Michelle after she was captured on CCTV walking along St Benedict's Street at about 8.20pm on March 28 and the morning of March 31, 2002 remains a mystery – much to the anguish of her heartbroken family. Time has failed to ease the pain felt by Michelle's father John, who today, almost a decade on from her disappearance and death, has made an emotional call to those who hold vital clues about what happened to his daughter to contact police.

He said: 'Any slight bit of information – you never know what that could link to and it could relight the inquiry completely. In particular, one of the main points that needs to be approached is to find out any information about Michelle in the previous week to her death. At the moment there's very little feedback to where Michelle was prior to her being found at Scarning.'

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Mr Bettles, who lives in Yorkshire, said there may well be people who came to Norfolk for the Easter weekend in 2002 who might yet hold vital clues, but who may never even know that Michelle was murdered.

The 56-year-old will be making an emotional return to Norfolk this weekend and will be spending a week in the county in a bid to try and help raise awareness about what happened – and find long-awaited answers.

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He said: 'It's horrendous when you're living with it every day and when you hear of a murder, like the one at Sandringham, you think here we go again.

'You can't explain to anyone what it's like; over the year's the pain doesn't go away it just gets deeper. It's hard when you see someone, even now, with long hair and Michelle's size and you think of her – in that split second the memories... it's like a flashback almost.'

But the pain of Michelle's murder is not only being felt by Mr Bettles, but Michelle's three children – all now in their mid teens – who have been robbed of a mother.

He said: 'It's the little things – you go out and she's not there. When I'm with her children it should be her that's with her children. They're aware of what I'm doing and 100pc support me. We're still treating it very gently. I need to leave it to them and if they want to know anything they can ask me.'

Michelle unusually had not kept a pre-arranged appointment with a regular client of hers – they had arranged to meet close to her home address in the Dereham Road area of Norwich, but she never kept the appointment.

In fact CCTV footage showing Michelle walking along St Benedict's Street towards the city centre on March 28 suggests she never intended to keep the appointment as she was heading in the opposite direction.

There was a series of sightings of Michelle in various locations in the red-light district of Norwich by people that knew her, the last being at about midnight.

It was to be the last that was seen of her until her body was discovered in the woodland at Scarning on March 31.

Do you have a crime story? Call reporter Peter Walsh on 01603 772436 or email peter.walsh@archant.co.uk

Michelle's murder is one of a number of investigations being looked at by Norfolk Constabulary's cold case team, which was set up in August 2008 to investigate murders, missing people and serious sexual offences still unresolved.

Detective Chief Inspector Jes Fry from Norfolk and Suffolk's Joint Major Investigation Team (MIT) and senior investigating officer in the case, has echoed Mr Bettles' plea for information on the 10th anniversary.

He said: 'The investigation into the murder of Michelle Bettles was very thorough and examined all the evidence available to hand at the time.

'I would be keen if anyone with information on the case does come forward and contact the police or Crimestoppers to share that information.

'We can assess anything now that comes in against all the previous investigation and decide how to deal with it. Obviously its a matter of concern and an open wound for the family who still have no resolution in relation to the death of Michelle and we would be keen to progress the inquiry if we can.

'I worked on the initial investigation right from day one and I think we ran that inquiry for 18 months before we had to close it down.

'We didn't leave anything unresolved. We have spoken on several occasions to Michelle's father to explain where the investigation is and how we might progress it, and he's obviously very keen to keep the case in the public domain to try and encourage someone with information to try and come forward.'

Since 2003, the case has been subject to forensic reviews after advancement in techniques, especially around DNA, which police say will continue.

Members of the public have been assured that calls will be dealt with confidentially - whether directly to the police or by calling police or Crimestoppers - and followed up if necessary.

Det Chf Insp Fry said: 'We will check out what people are saying against data we have to see if its new information or not. Any new information will be acted upon.

'Obviously someone holds the key to this and its just persuading that person to open up to us and give us that bit of information we need to take this forward in a positive way.'

Anyone with information about the Michelle Bettles murder inquiry should call the Major Investigation Team on 101, email coldcaseteam@norfolk.pnn.police.uk, or alternatively contact Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800 555 111.

Do you have a crime story? Call reporter Peter Walsh on 01603 772436 or email peter.walsh@archant.co.uk

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