Page last updated at 12:34 GMT, Wednesday, 4 February 2009

'Secrecy vow' over missing girl

Emma Alice Smith
Emma Alice's father, Sidney, was said to be devastated by his loss

The family of a teenage girl who went missing in 1926 was sworn to secrecy about a man's deathbed murder confession, her great nephew has said.

Sussex Police have reopened the 83-year-old case into Emma Alice Smith's disappearance in Waldron, East Sussex.

The force said it now had information that she may have been murdered.

David Wright said his family did not tell anyone about the dying man's confession in the 1950s because they thought it would cause a scandal.

Emma Alice, 16, was last seen in 1926 as she set off on her bicycle from her home in Waldron, East Sussex, to Horam railway station.

Mr Wright, 46, who was born in East Sussex but now lives in Blackpool, said: "I've known about my great aunt's disappearance since I was a small boy.

"I didn't know any more details about it because my mother had been sworn to keep what she knew to herself.

"Her aunt Lily had confessed to her that a gentleman, on his deathbed sometime in 1952 to 1953, had confessed to killing her sister.

We do not intend to dredge up local ponds. If there are searches they will be specific and based on evidence given to us

Sussex Police

"But she felt she was unable to bring it to light because her own father had just passed away.

"It was also a very small community and to make an accusation like that would have been scandalous in those days."

Mr Wright said his mother Sheila kept the information to herself until her aunt Lily died in 1995.

He contacted Sussex Police in December 2007 with the information and was told last month that they would reinvestigate the case.

Mr Wright said there were various rumours about Emma Alice's disappearance, including that she had eloped.

'Absolutely devastated'

But he said her father, Sidney, would never accept this and a plaque dedicated to his daughter's memory was placed on his grave in Waldron churchyard.

Mr Wright added: "My great grandfather was absolutely devastated by the loss of his daughter, as any family would be, and it would be nice to give her a proper burial and bring her home, even if that has to sit on the back burner while other cases are investigated."

A Sussex Police spokesman said: "We do not intend to dredge up local ponds. If there are searches they will be specific and based on evidence given to us. We are looking at two or three locations.

"The appeals are to those who live locally or anyone who may have heard of her disappearance to come forward as they may have information.

"This investigation, into an incident 83 years ago, has to be balanced against significant competitive demands on Sussex Police and the Major Crime Branch."

A short film based on the disappearance of Emma Alice Smith, called Finding Esther, was screened for the first time in Waldron on Sunday.

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