Despite a jury deciding 15-year-old Danielle Jones was murdered by her uncle Stuart Campbell, one question has always loomed unanswered: Where is her body? This week a new lead offered a ray of hope for an answer. That hope has now faded. Will she ever be found?
One man could bring an immediate end to the torment endured for more than 16 years by the family of Danielle Jones.
Yet he refuses to do so.
And unless Campbell reveals the location of her body, or police get a fresh lead in the case, Danielle’s current resting place will remain a mystery.
Although their search of garages near her killer’s former home has found no trace of her remains, Essex Police has vowed the Danielle Jones case will not be closed until the teenager’s body is reunited with her family.
Danielle’s parents Linda and Tony Jones think about her every day – the daughter who loved her pet rabbits, the band Steps and the singer Robbie Williams.
The youngest of three siblings, Danielle was a normal teenager who sang along to pop music in her bedroom and wanted to work with children after leaving school.
She was last seen near her East Tilbury home on the morning of 18 June 2001. Like hundreds of thousands of other children that day, she was on her way to catch the school bus.
But, Danielle never got on the bus and did not arrive safely at St Clere’s School.
Shortly after 08:00 BST, she was abducted and murdered by her uncle Stuart Campbell, then a trusted member of the family.
But Campbell, who had married into the Jones family, had a dark secret – an unhealthy fascination with teenage girls.
It was an obsession that had become focused on Danielle herself.
He had also hidden a violent criminal past that stretches back to 1976 when, at the age of 18, he was jailed for four years.
Campbell, a builder from Grays who worked across the south east of England, would later seal his fate through his own deceit about his whereabouts that day.
But, throughout the investigation that led to his conviction, Danielle would remain missing.
Campbell’s sordid past
- Campbell used to approach girls in the street, posing as a photographer, and invite them into his home
- It emerged after the trial that he was given a 12-month suspended sentence in 1989 after holding a 14-year-old girl at his home and photographing her in a karate suit
- He was originally charged with abducting the girl and taking indecent pictures of her – but it was dropped after he admitted taking a child without lawful authority
- In 1976, he was given a four-year jail term after being convicted of robbing a 16-year-old girl in the street
Campbell had claimed that on the morning Danielle disappeared he was miles away at a DIY store in Rayleigh.
But mobile telephone triangulation – a new forensic tool at the time of his trial – proved this was a lie.
He then claimed to have received text messages from Danielle after her disappearance suggesting she was having problems at home.
One message read:
“HI STU THANKZ 4 BEIN SO NICE UR THE BEST UNCLE EVER! TELL MUM I’M SO SORRY LUVYA LOADZ DAN XXX”
The telephone evidence would again prove decisive. The message had been sent when Danielle’s phone and Campbell’s phone were in the same place.
And Danielle only wrote messages in lower case text.
‘We are both angry’
Impact statements from those affected by crimes are often read out in court before offenders are sentenced.
This harrowing and brutally honest account from Linda Jones about how she and husband Tony were affected by Danielle’s murder was written in 2002.
“Her disappearance has been a life-changing event which my family and I will never really come to terms with and I doubt whether things will ever become normal for us again.
“When Danielle first went missing it was totally unthinkable that she was dead. For the first couple of weeks I couldn’t go to sleep, I wouldn’t leave home and we didn’t lock the front door in case Danielle returned.
“It all seemed like a bad dream, it wasn’t real, it wasn’t happening to us. I think after a couple of weeks without any news I knew she wouldn’t be coming home. It took a long time for Tony to say that Danielle would not be coming home.
“We are both angry and those feelings of anger sometimes bubble up and cause turmoil in our relationship. The whole thing has knocked the stuffing out of us.”
Campbell, who pleaded not guilty to murder, was put on trial at Chelmsford Crown Court in 2002.
The jury though would find him guilty and he was later sentenced to a life term, with a minimum of 20 years to be served before he would be eligible for parole.
But even after he was jailed Campbell, now 59, steadfastly refused to share the whereabouts of Danielle’s body.
The search at the time of her disappearance was extensive.
Involving more than 900 officers and support staff in 2001 and 2002, 1,500 different sites were searched and tonnes of earth were lifted and sifted.
But despite the investigation bill reaching £1.7m, nothing was found.
We now know that one possible lead was not followed up.
It was revealed only this week, when Essex Police invited the media to a Monday morning press conference.
The force refused to say what it was to do with, merely there had been a “significant development”.
This “development” included an admission – that police had received “non-specific information” about one set of garages in Stifford Clays back in 2001, but no search was carried out.
Interest was piqued in February this year, when a member of the public told police of “unusual activity” at the site, which is just six miles (10km) from Danielle’s home.
Her parents Linda and Tony Jones, who visited the garage site on Monday, voiced their hope that the search might bring answers as to what happened to Danielle 16 years ago.
Then, just two days after the search started, Assistant Chief Constable Steve Worron said he was confident Danielle was not beneath the main plot being searched.
“A thorough search was conducted on the base which formed the focus of our work yesterday,” he said on Wednesday, adding: “I am confident that Danielle’s body is not there.”
“I am, however, committed to ensuring that we satisfy ourselves before leaving the area that there is nothing concealed under any of the bases indicated within the information received in February.
“Danielle’s family have been updated on this development and we continue to work with them.
“This case is not closed. It will remain open until Danielle’s body is found and she is returned to her family.
“The one person who knows where her body is still refuses to tell police or her family.
“Stuart Campbell could end the last 16 years of pain for Linda and Tony and tell them where their daughter is.”
Many feel killers who do not assist police in bringing a full resolution to cases such as that of Danielle’s should not be granted parole.
One of them, unsurprisingly, is Mrs Jones herself, who is a supporter of Helen’s Law.
Helen’s Law is named after Helen McCourt – who was murdered on Merseyside in 1988. Her body has never been found.
Her mother Marie has offered her support to the Jones family.
She said the Jones family had endured “terrible torment” in not knowing where Danielle’s body lies.
“I think for Linda and Tony at this moment in time, all they want is to have Danielle back in the fold of her family, where they can arrange to give her a proper and decent burial,” Mrs McCourt said.