Determined police have wealth of detail from huge hunt

“IT is like looking for a needle in a haystack but the team is absolutely dedicated and the area is being painstakingly searched,” said Det Sgt Gary Mercer as the inquiry into missing Leeds teenager Leanne Tiernan (pictured) entered its 44th day. “We are determined to find her.”

That was in January this year when a belief remained that the 16-year-old could still turn up safe and well.

Six months on, the hope had all but gone but the determination of police to get to the bottom of her baffling disappearance is unabated.

In recent weeks officers had been planning, with Leeds City Council, to carry out an extensive search of the sewers and drains around the Bramley area where Leanne vanished on November 26 last year.

The joint operation had been due to begin on September 1.

It was a measure of how far West Yorkshire Police were prepared to go to provide much-needed answers for Leanne’s family and friends.

The search, one of the largest ever undertaken by West Yorkshire Police, has been massive.

It has unearthed an abundance of detail which will provide police with a solid platform from which to work as the missing person inquiry switches to a murder hunt.

At its height, some 200 officers a day were involved in the inquiry – an almost unprecedented amount for a missing person inquiry.

More than 1,400 house-to-house inquiries took place, and 800 houses were searched along the route Leanne was likely to have taken towards her Landseer Road home in Bramley where she lived with her mother, Sharon Hawkhead.

Police also took DNA samples from 140 men they had interviewed in connection with the disappearance and 12 search warrants were executed at addresses in the city.

The hunt took in 800 sheds, garages and outbuildings and nearly 150 commercial premises were visited in a half-mile radius of the area in which Leanne was last seen as police attempted to trace those who had been in the area making or taking away deliveries.

The West Yorkshire Underwater Search Team was brought in to search a three-mile stretch of the Leeds-Liverpool canal from Spring Garden lock to Bramley Falls, an operation which required the water levels to be lowered to one metre over a two-mile stretch to help ease the search of the dark, dank winter water.

A police helicopter, horses and dogs were also employed. They searched open land in 52 sections within a mile radius of Houghley Gill, a short-cut through woods, where Leanne disappeared.

Thirty-two drain shafts were examined in Houghley Gill and information seeking was carried out at Bramley Working Men’s Club in Elder Road and the nearby Raynville pub.

Specialist assistance came from British Waterways, British Transport Police, the Ministry of Defence’s aerial reconnaissance department, Calder Valley Search and Rescue Team, the National Missing Persons Helpline, other police forces, Interpol and the National Search Team Centre.

Work was also going on with telephone companies after Leanne’s mobile phone was activated the day after she disappeared.

Leanne’s family, friends and acquaintances, from whom police took 189 written statements, also played a massive part in the search.

Her elder sister Michelle, then 19, agreed to play the part of Leanne in a reconstruction of the missing girl’s last known movements.

Mother Sharon took part in local searches, appeals on television and in June she was involved in an 18-mile walk, from Pudsey to Wakefield, to thank the National Missing Persons Helpline for its support.

The public was also enlisted to help when supermarket chain Iceland featured a picture and details of Leanne on cartons of milk sold at its 760 stores nationwide.

After so much time, and so much effort, the search for Leanne has finally come to a tragic end.

Now a new hunt begins – this time for her killer.