Birmingham & Black Country

Graves dug up in hunt for missing mother Natalie Putt

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Media captionBritain's Got Talent missing mother believed murdered

Police investigating the disappearance of a 17-year-old mother 14 years ago are digging up several graves.

Acting on new information about Natalie Putt, who disappeared in 2003, West Midlands Police believes it is "looking at a murder inquiry".

The force said it received a call from a man with "specific information that has the potential to lead to the person responsible for Natalie's death".

Officers are digging in Ruiton Cemetery in Upper Gornal near Dudley.

Family members said in a statement they were "very upset about the developments and ask that our family is left in peace until such time that we hear definitive news from the police".

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"In the near 14 years that Natalie has been missing, we have never given up hope of finding her safe and well. Until we know anything to the contrary this remains the case," they said.

Image copyright West Midlands Police
Image caption Natalie Putt left her home in Lower Gornal, West Midlands, to go to a shop in September 2003

"We, her sisters Becky and Lowri, are together, surrounded by pictures of Natalie and have lit candles as a sign of hope."

An image of Ms Putt was broadcast on the ITV show Britain's Got Talent on Friday during a performance by a choir made up of relatives of missing people.

Police said while the information prompting the digs predated the broadcast, the programme's timing was "fortuitous", with information about Ms Putt coming in as a result.

After the show, Rebecca Coggins wrote on Facebook of Ms Putt, her half sister, "still sad to see you on there but I'm so grateful they featured you tonight".

Image copyright West Midlands Police
Image caption The operation at Ruiton Cemetery is expected to take several days

Ms Putt left her home in Lower Gornal, Dudley, to go to a shop in September 2003, leaving behind her baby son, then aged 11 weeks.

An 18-year-old man was arrested in March 2004 in connection with her disappearance, but later released without charge.

Since Ms Putt went missing, officers have searched open land close to her home, including underwater searches of rivers and lakes, and farmland in Wombourne, where it is understood she kept horses.

Det Insp Ian Iliffe said: "We have had no positive sightings of Natalie in all these years and there has never been any financial activity connected to her bank accounts or any access to health services across the country, which points to the fact that she is no longer alive."

He said the force also believed at least two people "know what has led us to this site [the cemetery] and they may have further information which could assist our search".

Image copyright West Midlands Police
Image caption There are people who know what has led officers to the cemetery, police say

He said the specific information the force received came from a man in a telephone box in the Lake Street area of Gornal.

"This crucial information could help us solve this mystery and give Natalie's family the answers they need," he added.

"I would urge that person to contact us again and we will ensure the information they have is treated with the strictest confidentiality."

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