Missing schoolgirl Laura hid at refugee night shelter with internet 'abductor'

Runaway schoolgirl Laura Stainforth stayed in a French refugee centre full of UK-bound migrants with an alleged abductor she met on the internet.

The 15-year-old from Cleethorpes, Lincolnshire, spent a week with Robert Williams, 49. She phoned home to say she was safe but refused to reveal her whereabouts.

Williams, who is on bail for allegedly raping a 16-year-old, is due to appear in court today at the start of extradition proceedings.

Robert Williams

Robert Williams, hidden under his jacket, leaves the Court of Douai in northern France today.

Laura disappeared eight days ago. She and Williams sailed from Dover the next day, then took a train to Lille where they stayed at a night shelter run by a charity.

Few questions are asked in such places, said French police.

After they were seen begging at a railway station, police closed in and the pair surrendered yesterday at the British Consulate General.

Laura appeared "calm" and was in "good health". British police are in France to repatriate her.

Laura Stainforth

CCTV shows Laura Stainforth on board the ferry on Thursday

Lille prosecutor Philippe Lemaire said they had been spotted outside the Gare Lille Flanders on Tuesday night asking rail passengers for money.

'They were after any money they could get,' he said. 'A British person living in France who was aware of them being missing contacted local police after seeing them begging. It was at this point  -  when the net was closing in  -  that they handed themselves in to the British authorities.'

French police suspect that initially the couple stayed in cheap hotels but then began to run out of euros. They think they slept rough because they were fearful of drawing money from cash machines and alerting the authorities to their whereabouts.

Robert Williams

Robert Williams has been arrested by French police

Lille police say Williams  -  on bail pending claims he raped a 16-year-old girl  -  walked into the consulate and 'intimated that he had misunderstandings to clear up and wanted to cooperate with the authorities'.

They said Laura, from Cleethorpes, North-East Lincolnshire, was 'calm and unflustered' and after a medical examination 'appeared healthy.'

Mr Lemaire said Williams, subject of a European arrest warrant, was 'likely to be extradited within a couple of weeks' after a court appearance locally today.

Laura's tearful mother Debra, visibly shaking, spoke briefly after hearing the news. 'I am pleased to inform everybody that my daughter, Laura Stainforth, is safe and well,' she said.

'I am grateful for all the support from the papers and the publicity that has brought Laura back home to us.'

Detective Chief Inspector Sharon Fielding said Humberside Police were first told the couple could be in Lille as early as Sunday and French police were alerted.

She said officers would bring Laura home 'as soon as possible' but could not say exactly when. 'Her welfare is paramount and we need to ensure she is safe to travel,' she added.

Laura Stainforth

Laura disappeared last Wednesday from her home in North Lincolnshire

Her parents were 'absolutely delighted' when told the news yesterday morning.

'It was very difficult for them,' she said. 'Laura had never gone missing before. She's a nice, hard-working girl. It came completely out of the blue.'

Detectives, who understand Laura might have been chatting to Williams on the internet for up to six months, will speak to her on her return.

Laura went missing on Wednesday last week after leaving home to go to the shops.

She and Williams were filmed on CCTV at Grimsby railway station that evening and detectives believe they took a train to Doncaster before travelling to London and on to Dover and catching a ferry.

French police said Williams was "likely to be extradited within a couple of weeks".

Sorry we are not currently accepting comments on this article.