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Wednesday, 03 June 2015

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Search for remains of murdered Hexham woman

AN eight-year mystery over the disappearance of a Hexham woman has become a full-scale murder inquiry this week.

Windswept fells on the Swinhope Moor, surrounding a remote property near Sparty Lea, have become the focus of the search for Janet Brown, from Lowgate, who detectives now believe has been killed.

A 20-strong team of specially trained search officers, forensic archaeologists and geophysicists have been drafted in to conduct the painstaking operation which will cover up to 40 acres of farmland over the next three weeks.

With diggers and ground penetrating radar equipment at their disposal, the teams set to work on Monday at Green Hills Farm, in search of evidence which would give them answers in the long-running investigation.

But in an area full of abandoned mineshafts, detectives are fully prepared for detailed searching to be difficult.

Det. Chief Insp. Nicola Musgrove, who is leading the inquiry, said Janet, who would now be 53 years old, was never reported as a missing person.

A frequent traveller, her family assumed she had gone abroad to find work and suspected nothing, even when she failed to attend the funerals of both her parents.

It has been confirmed that the estate she stood to inherit from her parents, reported to be worth around £1m, has remained untouched.

However a call from a bank reporting suspected irregularities with her parent’s bank accounts, prompted police to investigate Janet’s disappearance in 2009.

Since then, extensive inquiries have taken place, both in the UK and abroad, in attempt to find her or any evidence that she may still be alive.

The last confirmed sighting of Janet was on the set of a television documentary, filmed at Craster, on the Northumberland coast, in 2005, in which she was cast as an extra.

Police believe she was still living in the Lowgate area in 2006 but her personal bank accounts have not been accessed.

Det. Chief Inp. Musgrove said: “Although no body has been found, nothing has come to light to suggest Janet Brown is still alive and we have now begun searching an area of farm land.

“These inquiries will take a number of weeks.

“The searches will be detailed and it is not clear what, if anything, they will reveal.”

The arrest of a 59-year-old Tynedale man on suspicion of murder in December is thought to have led detectives to Green Hills Farm, where they have already lifted the floors of the house and outbuildings.

He is currently on bail pending further inquiries.

But the snowy conditions and extended winter have delayed police efforts to start searching the land before now.

No one has been charged in relation to Janet’s disappearance.

However, the 59-year-old man and two women aged 51 and 64, remain on bail after they were arrested on suspicion of fraud in 2010.

Det. Chief Insp. Musgrove, said:“As a result of extensive inquiries we are now treating the disappearance of Janet Brown as a murder inquiry.

“But we still need the public to get in touch if they have any information at all about Janet Brown’s whereabouts over recent years.

“Any information, no matter how trivial people think it is, could prove vital.”

Chief Supt Dianne Winship, from Northumberland Area Command, said: “While we appreciate people may well be concerned by these developments, I’d stress there is no risk to the general public and this is a long running and historic case.

“I’d also like to reassure the people of Tynedale that any disruption will be kept to an absolute minimum and there won’t be any change to day to day policing in the area.”

Anyone with information about Janet Brown should contact police on 101 or in confidence via Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111.