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Friday, November 12, 1999 Published at 01:27 GMT


Rail death inquiry team visit Britain

French police are using the internet to appeal for witnesses

French magistrates investigating the death of British student Isabel Peake are visiting England as part of their inquiry.

The move comes amid criticism of the French police's handling of the case.

[ image: Isabel Peake: Her parents have criticised the handling of the inquiry]
Isabel Peake: Her parents have criticised the handling of the inquiry
The 20-year-old's partially clothed body was found by the main Limoges-Paris railway line near the village of Chabenet on 13 October.

The Birmingham University student had been travelling to her home in Barlaston, near Stone, Staffordshire just two weeks into an exchange programme at the University of Limoges.

The two examining magistrates leading the investigation into her death - Chateauroux judges Michel Bonnieu and Jean Dematteis - will visit Stafford accompanied by two unnamed senior detectives on Friday.

The BBC's Jon Sopel: "There is a very low clear-up rate in cases like this"
It is not yet known why they are coming to England, nor to whom they will be speaking.

But a Staffordshire police spokesman said: "French law does not allow them to talk to the media about the case. As a result, they will not be giving interviews."

Miss Peake's parents say they came up against a wall of bureaucracy following their daughter's death, while police have been criticised for failing to take the train on which she was travelling out of service until six days after she died.

[ image: It took police six days to take the train out of service]
It took police six days to take the train out of service
But in France, police chiefs have defended the investigation, while extra officers have been drafted into the inquiry team.

Commander Daniel Baude told the BBC: "I am not allowed to go into details of the inquiry, but it is clear that with the additional resources it is helping us to make progress on a daily basis."

A special investigations unit has been set up, while officers are trying to track down everyone who was travelling on the train, which has now been moved to a siding near Limoges with its carriages sealed up.

Police are also using the internet for the first time to appeal for witnesses.

But Miss Peake's family remain unhappy with the way police have handled the case.

[ image: Commander Baude:
Commander Baude: "Progress on a daily basis"
Their solicitor, Paul Hawksworth, told the BBC: "They seemed to go round in circles for a number of days and this is notwithstanding the fact that Mrs Peake is a French national and Mr Peake speaks fluent French, so there was no language barrier."

Tests on Ms Peake's body found no evidence of rape, while robbery has also been ruled out.

One line of investigation is that she may have been killed by a gang of "delinquents" who regularly use trains similar to the one she was travelling on.

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