WA Police have acknowledged a “significant” clue in Cleo Smith’s alleged abduction, but say the key detail is not yet confirmed.
Western Australian Police have acknowledged a “significant” clue in Cleo Smith’s alleged abduction, but say the key detail is not yet confirmed.
Lead investigator Detective Superintendent Rod Wilde was asked on Thursday whether a car spotted speeding away from the campsite where the four-year-old girl was taken had been linked to a 36-year-old man now in custody.
“That hasn’t been confirmed as yet, certainly, we would say the car was significant and in the right timeframe,” he told reporters.
The suspect has yet to be charged with any offence, though police say charges are expected to be laid at some point today.
Earlier on Thursday, officers revealed the man suspected of abducting Cleo self-harmed while in a police holding cell.
The man, who was arrested near the Carnarvon house where Cleo was found on Wednesday, was taken to hospital “a couple of times” as a precautionary measure after an incident in his jail cell.
WA Police deputy commissioner Col Blanch told 2GB’s Ben Fordham on Thursday morning that the man, who had “no serious injuries”, had been taken to hospital for a second time hours earlier.
Mr Blanch said police were obliged to “make all the right accommodations for this person” to ensure he was “of sound mind” before he was interviewed.
“The important thing to police, if we’re going to interview someone related to offences as serious as this, we’ve got to make sure they’re in full health,” he said in another interview with Seven’s Sunrise.
Police confirmed on Thursday afternoon the man had left hospital and was back in the police station and undergoing questioning.
Now that Cleo has been rescued, police say the investigation into the young girl’s disappearance will “start again”.
Cleo was found by police after they smashed into a “locked house” in Carnarvon, in Western Australia’s north, about 1am on Wednesday after an 18-day search.
The man, who has no connection with Cleo’s family, is in custody suspected of abducting the girl from the nearby Quobba Blowholes campground, in the early hours of October 16.
He has not yet been charged.
Mr Blanch told The West Live on Wednesday that now Cleo had been found, the work to “dot the Is and cross the Ts” would begin to ensure police had explored every possibility.
“The investigation into what has happened from now really has started again, because we’ve got Cleo, you know, she is alive and well,” Mr Blanch said.
“Now we’ve got to make sure we dot the Is and cross the Ts, do everything according to law and thoroughly and make sure we put together a good brief of evidence, if there is one.”
Mr Blanch said he had “full praise” for Mr Wilde and the team of more than 100 officers and analysts who worked around the clock.
“We had to juggle trying to find Cleo in a hurry versus doing our job steady wins the race, looking through each and every piece of information we collected, and that is exactly what we did,” he said.
“You know, a little piece of information turns into a lot rapidly when you have a lot that can be connected and that was good old fashioned police and intelligence work.”
Speaking to Seven’s Sunrise on Thursday, WA Police Minister Paul Papalia could not reveal exactly what led to Cleo’s discovery.
“We have to be careful talking about too much of the detail, suffice to say there was not anything in terms of a tip-off or some clairvoyant or anything like that, it was just good, hard, police grind work,” he said.
“Some analysts did some incredible work back in Perth and that led to what was the breakthrough.”
Speaking on the same program later, Mr Blanch said it was unlikely the $1 million reward would be paid out to anyone.
“It was literally a needle in a data haystack and we got to a point where we could sort of see the picture that we believed fit the circumstances and it did lead to that house, it led to the person in that house and we went there,” he said.
“Police solve crimes through what I say is data overlays so we put the phone data over number plate recognition data, CCTV, witness accounts, forensics and when you layer them on top of each other you solve crimes and that is merely what we have done here.”
Mr Papalia stressed that police did not believe there were more people involved.
“Police have been at pains to emphasise that this is, to our knowledge, one individual, one person who has done this horrible thing, there is no reason to expect that anybody else has been involved,” he said.
Speaking to reporters on Thursday, Mr Wilde said police sifted through mountains of information, including witness statements, calls to Crime Stoppers, CCTV and mobile phone data.
“There are thousands, if not hundreds of thousands of pieces of information, it‘s really joining the dots,” he said.
“We were looking for something that occurred at the Blowholes, this information would be relevant to that, so we could track people in certain locations at certain times. That is what we look to identify, and from that we build a picture of who was there and who shouldn’t have been there, then to us identifying this person.”
Shortly after the incredible find, forensic teams arrived at the Canarvon house where Cleo was discovered – which is just minutes away from her family home – and set up a marquee in preparation of a thorough search, which is expected to take days or even weeks.
Police were seen removing numerous items from the house yesterday, including dozens of paper bags of evidence and a large, rolled-up rug.
Investigators will now sift through mountains of data and forensic items to establish exactly what happened on the night she went missing and in the intervening days.
Mr Wilde said a key factor would be reports of a car leaving the campsite between 1.30am and 6am on October 16, during the time frame Cleo went missing.
“Investigations are still ongoing in relation to that, but that‘s a crucial piece of information as well,” Detective Superintendent Rod Wilde said yesterday.
“We collected a lot of data, that’s what we do in these types of investigations.”
The first image of the man arrested over Cleo’s abduction yesterday showed him heavily bandaged in the back of an ambulance under heavy police guard.
“I’m not going to elaborate further in terms of that man, other than to say he is a local man from Carnarvon, and we will be having something further to say later,” WA Police Commissioner Chris Dawson told reporters.
“I once again want to reinforce my thanks to a great team, assisted by a great community — the town of Carnarvon can stand strong.”
He has reportedly been flown back to Perth for further questioning. No charges have been laid as of early Thursday morning.
Carnarvon is a town of just 5500 residents about 900km north of Perth, where most people know each other.
Neighbours claimed the man had been “lonely” and that he had been seen purchasing nappies despite not having a child.
Police said they were not aware of any nappy purchase when asked during a press conference on Wednesday.
Mr Blanch told 2GB that he did not have any more information on Cleo’s wellbeing at this time.
“We don’t, we’ve got to be really careful with Cleo,” he said.
“We want to give her time with her family. The most important thing for us is we will be talking to Cleo, but we have to do it very carefully, we have professional child interviewing experts.”
Mr Blanch said it would be a “really hard, slow process” to get information about those 18 days.
“And it is OK if she doesn’t want to tell us – that’s OK too,” he said.