Why have the Milk Carton Kids never been found? Leading criminologist claims murders of Patrick Warren and David Spencer were NOT properly investigated because of they came from a working class area
- Patrick Warren, 11, and David Spencer, 13, went missing on Boxing Day in 1996
- Their remains have never been found and nobody has been charged for crime
- Professor David Wilson claims that their disappearance wasn’t ‘taken seriously’
- Believes police ignored ‘clues’ such as murderer Brian Field living in Solihull
The disappearance of the ‘Milk Carton Kids’ was not properly investigated by police because they were working class children, one of Britain’s leading criminologists has claimed.
Patrick Warren, 11, and David Spencer, 13, vanished on Boxing Day in 1996 after playing together near their home in Chelmsley Wood, Solihull.
The pair got their nickname after a campaign by the National Missing Persons helpline featured images of the missing boys on milk cartons.
To this day, no one has been charged with the double disappearance and murder of the two friends, and their bodies have never been found despite two major police investigations.
Professor David Wilson investigated the famous unsolved murder case for a new Channel 4 documentary, and believes that had the pair been from a middle-class area, police would have taken their disappearances ‘seriously from the start’.
Appearing on This Morning, he said that police didn’t look into vital ‘clues’, such as the criminal history of Brian Field – who lived in the local area and was jailed for life in 2001 for the murder of 14-year-old schoolboy in 1968.
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Patrick Warren, 11, (right) and David Spencer, 13, (left) vanished on Boxing Day in 1996 after playing together near their home in Chelmsley Wood, Solihull
Professor David Wilson investigated the famous unsolved murder case for a new Channel 4 documentary and appeared on This Morning today
‘It’s about class,’ he said. ‘These are two boys that go missing from a particularly working class area.
‘I suggested if they had gone missing in rather more upmarket areas of Birmingham, that case might have been taken more seriously right from the start.
‘The thing that really got me, there were so many criminological clues in relation to this case, I felt could have been harnessed.’
To this day, no one has been charged with the double disappearance and murder of the two friends, and their bodies have never been found despite two major police investigations
A missing persons campaign by the National Missing Persons helpline featured images of the missing boys on milk cartons, which led to the pair being dubbed the ‘Milk Carton Kids’
Timeline on the disappearance of the ‘Milk Carton Kids’
The news coverage at the time shows how the boys’ families from Chelmsley Wood – a sprawling, working class estate on the edge of Birmingham – appealed for information
1996 – Patrick Warren, 11, and David Spencer, 13, disappeared on Boxing Day after playing together near their home in Chelmsley Wood, Solihull
Police initially believed they were two streetwise children who had run away from home.
1997 – Four months after their last sighting, the boys became the first children to appear on four-pint milk cartons in 770 Iceland stores, as part of a campaign by the National Missing Persons Helpline.
The initiative was copied from the US where it had been running since 1979 when six-year-old Etan Patz had gone missing in New York.
But after four weeks the families were still in the dark.
The boys were last seen just after midnight on December 27, 1997, at a Shell petrol station where the attendant gave the pair a packet of biscuits before they walked off
2006 – 10 years after their disappearance, the case was treated as a murder investigation, despite the absence of bodies.
A full forensic investigation of the boys’ houses revealed nothing untoward and checks were made of the sex offenders register – which did not exist when the pair went missing – to find out if any known paedophiles were living in the vicinity at around that time.
Police discovered that paedophile and convicted child killer Brian Field was living only a few miles away from Patrick and David in Solihull when they went missing.
In 1999, three years after the boys went missing, Field, a former farm labourer, was arrested for drink-driving in Chelmsley Wood.
A DNA sample taken from him matched him to the 1968 rape and murder of schoolboy Roy Tutill in Surrey.
A computer generated image shows how David (left) and Patrick (right) would have looked as older teenagers several years after they had disappeared
Field was named as a suspect and was questioned by detectives and officers also dug up land he used as a dumping ground at Old Damson Lane in Solihull.
But without evidence, in the face of his denial of any knowledge of the boys, they were unable to progress the case further.
2020 – Police found human bones at a building site just three miles from the spot where the boys vanished, but the remains pre-dated 1996.
Brian Field, a farm labourer who lived in the Solihull area at the time the boys went missing, was jailed for life in 2001 for the rape and murder of 14-year-old Roy Tutill more than 30 years earlier.
Officers from Operation Stenley are believed to have visited Field in Full Sutton prison, York, to question him in 2001.
He has denied any involvement in the disappearances.
Wilson said that police should have immediately considered Field a suspect in the disappearance: ‘Brian Fields is the only person in British criminal history ever to be convicted of the abduction of two teenage boys at the same time.
‘Luckily those two boys were able to escape.
‘If you look back through our historical records there is only one predatory paedophile who has done that and it’s Brian Field.
‘So why don’t we look at Brian Fields in relation to the abduction of two teenage boys in Chelmsley Wood?
‘You could connect those cases especially when you discover Brian Fields was living and working in that area at the same time.’
He says that the case wasn’t ‘treated seriously’ until more than a year after the boys were reported missing, and that it was assumed the children would ‘come home when they’re hungry’.
‘This is where we have to say, with no joy, the police investigation was not very good right at the start of what happened,’ he claimed.
‘When David and Patrick go missing, they go missing on Boxing Day 1996, but that matter isn’t really treated seriously as a missing persons case until February of the following year.
‘The first 48 hours are so vital when a young person goes missing, but they treated this as: “They’ll come home when they’re hungry”.’
He said David’s mother, Christine O’Toole, wasn’t taken seriously when she reported the crime, and that the children were assumed to be ‘more mature and capable’ than they were.
‘I go back to class. They didn’t believe what Christine, David’s mother, was saying. They down-played it.
‘They saw these boys as being streetwise, made them see much more mature and capable than they actually were – because they were children.’
West Midlands police said: ‘Brian Field has been interviewed about the missing boys as previously reported, not been charged as there has not been sufficient evidence to date to present to CPS to consider.
‘West Midlands police completed a large number of enquires to try and find the missing boys, this this including following up a enquires as a result of media campaigns where CCTV existed.
‘This was recovered and viewed and friends of the boys were spoken to, the missing persons investigation was overseen by an inspector with staff allocated to the investigation and in February 1997 was progressed by CID.’
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