Friends pay tribute to Louise Smith, 16, as murder detectives find body in woods

Tributes have been paid to teenager Louise Smith by her friends after detectives found a body believed to be hers in a wooded area in Hampshire. 

Mandy Fernando has known the 16-year-old since she was a little girl.

She laid flowers at the entrance to Havant Thicket in Hampshire where police discovered a body believed to be Louise’s.

Mandy described Louise as a lovely girl with a heart of gold.

‘The community is devastated, sad, shocked,’ Mandy said. ‘I can’t speak for everybody but when anyone hears of a young person, whoever it may be, it’s very sad.’

The teenager (pictured) has been missing from her home in the Leigh Park area of Havant, Hampshire, since the anniversary of VE Day on May 8

The teenager (pictured) has been missing from her home in the Leigh Park area of Havant, Hampshire, since the anniversary of VE Day on May 8

The teenager (pictured) has been missing from her home in the Leigh Park area of Havant, Hampshire, since the anniversary of VE Day on May 8

Louise Smith's friend Mandy Fernando (pictured) leaves flowers outside Havant Thicket in Hampshire, where the 16-year-old's body was found on Thursday

Louise Smith's friend Mandy Fernando (pictured) leaves flowers outside Havant Thicket in Hampshire, where the 16-year-old's body was found on Thursday

Louise Smith’s friend Mandy Fernando (pictured) leaves flowers outside Havant Thicket in Hampshire, where the 16-year-old’s body was found on Thursday

Flowers left outside Havant Thicket in Hampshire where police found a body while searching for 16-year-old Louise Smith

Flowers left outside Havant Thicket in Hampshire where police found a body while searching for 16-year-old Louise Smith

Flowers left outside Havant Thicket in Hampshire where police found a body while searching for 16-year-old Louise Smith

Forensic officers carry out bagged items from the property in Leigh Park after a body was found in woodlands during the search for 16-year-old Louise Smith

Forensic officers carry out bagged items from the property in Leigh Park after a body was found in woodlands during the search for 16-year-old Louise Smith

Forensic officers carry out bagged items from the property in Leigh Park after a body was found in woodlands during the search for 16-year-old Louise Smith

Louise’s neighbour John Singleton said he saw the girl on the day she went missing.

‘She just went out walking, I didn’t know where she was going.

‘It’s very sad, the outcome is the saddest, for a while we had some hope.’

Police investigating the disappearance of 16-year-old Louise Smith were today searching a flat belonging to a married couple where she had been living. 

Forensic officers spent the day sifting through the first floor property belonging to the 29-year-old woman and her husband in Havant, Hampshire. 

Police also searched another property, about a mile away. 

A resident living below the flat being searched by police told how the couple were led out by police in handcuffs on May 15.

It was suggested Louise may have been staying in the flat after she fell out with mother Rebecca Cooper (pictured), 39, over boyfriend troubles

It was suggested Louise may have been staying in the flat after she fell out with mother Rebecca Cooper (pictured), 39, over boyfriend troubles

It was suggested Louise may have been staying in the flat after she fell out with mother Rebecca Cooper (pictured), 39, over boyfriend troubles

A police officer enters the property in Leigh Park after a body was found in woodlands yesterday

A police officer enters the property in Leigh Park after a body was found in woodlands yesterday

A police officer enters the property in Leigh Park after a body was found in woodlands yesterday

Specialist forensic officers have been seen taking 'bag loads' of items including carpet and clothing from the flat in Havant

Specialist forensic officers have been seen taking 'bag loads' of items including carpet and clothing from the flat in Havant

Specialist forensic officers have been seen taking ‘bag loads’ of items including carpet and clothing from the flat in Havant

Police (pictured today) found a body in woodland during the hunt for Louise yesterday and confirmed they are treating it as suspicious

Police (pictured today) found a body in woodland during the hunt for Louise yesterday and confirmed they are treating it as suspicious

Police (pictured today) found a body in woodland during the hunt for Louise yesterday and confirmed they are treating it as suspicious

He said: ‘I let the officers in. A short while later they emerged with the occupants of the flat upstairs and took them outside in handcuffs.

A neighbour said: ‘I told the officers that he was here sometime between 1.30pm and 4.30pm on May 8. 

‘Last Friday police started searching the house. They were there all throughout last weekend. 

Neighbours said the couple had been arrested last week on suspicion of kidnapping the 16-year-old, who had been staying there in the days before she went missing.

On Thursday Hampshire Police confirmed that a body had been found in nearby woodland and said they were in the process of identifying who it was.

They confirmed they are treating the death as suspicious.

Louise vanished from her home in the Leigh Park area of Havant on May 8, on the 75th anniversary of VE Day, and has not been seen since.

Police officers guarded the door of the flat owned by the man and woman and forensics officers in white overalls searched inside.

Those living nearby described the couple as ‘quiet’ and said they ‘didn’t get out of the house much’. 

Louise is said to have been experiencing problems at home with her mum, Rebecca Cooper, who lives a a five-minute walk away from the flat where the teenager is said to have been staying with the married couple.

One local said: ‘Louise had been suffering from depression lately and had apparently been bullied at school.

‘She had an on-off boyfriend who himself had something of a troubled past. I’m not sure that he got on well with Louise’s mum. ‘She spent a lot of time with this couple as a result. I think she had been living in that flat before she went missing.’

One neighbour claimed that on the day Louise vanished the woman posted online: ‘Louise has gone missing… she was supposed to be in my care, she went to the shops for her friends and now she’s missing.’

A forensic officer blacks out windows at the property in Leigh Park after a body was found in woodlands

A forensic officer blacks out windows at the property in Leigh Park after a body was found in woodlands

A forensic officer blacks out windows at the property in Leigh Park after a body was found in woodlands

The teenager's last reported sighting was around midday on May 8 on Somborne Drive

The teenager's last reported sighting was around midday on May 8 on Somborne Drive

The teenager’s last reported sighting was around midday on May 8 on Somborne Drive 

Louise lived with her mother Ms Cooper (pictured), 39

Louise lived with her mother Ms Cooper (pictured), 39

She also lived with her stepfather Richard O'Shea (pictured)

She also lived with her stepfather Richard O'Shea (pictured)

Louise lived with her mother Ms Cooper (left), 39, and stepfather Richard O’Shea (right)

Pictured: A map showing the whereabouts of Louise Smith prior to police discovering a body

Pictured: A map showing the whereabouts of Louise Smith prior to police discovering a body

Pictured: A map showing the whereabouts of Louise Smith prior to police discovering a body

Meanwhile, another living in the apartment block said on VE Day he saw a ‘red van’ outside the block of flats which a girl got into with bags of clothes. 

One middle aged resident said: ‘We had sniffer dogs yesterday. Over the past week we’ve had vans arriving and taking clothing, carpets – basically everything. There’s been a huge police presence and they’ve been bringing loads out.

‘The last post [the woman] had up on was ‘[Louise] has gone missing, she was supposed to be in my care, she went to the shops for her friends and now she’s missing’.’

Describing the couple, she said: ‘I never had any complaints against him, he’d always say hi but it was only general chit chat.’

She described the man as having a tattoo and sleeve, spacers and a beard while the woman was short, large and had brunette hair.

Another neighbour, an elderly woman, said: ‘All these vans started turning up, taking bag loads of stuff from carpet, bedding, clothes.

‘The couple have always been very nice to me. They are very quiet and I don’t think they got out the house much.’

Police forces at the scene today where a body was found in the search for the 16-year-old girl who has been missing since VE Day

One neighbour claimed Louise fell out with her mother and was staying at the address.

The man in his 20s said: ‘She was staying at this flat at the time of her disappearance.’

Another said: ‘On VE Day I saw a red van outside the flats and a girl getting into it with bundles of clothes.

‘I reported this to police as it didn’t feel right… I can’t say if it was definitely her but it was a girl around her age.’

Last weekend police released a 29-year-old man and a 29-year-old woman on bail after they were arrested on suspicion of kidnap.

Louise’s last reported sighting was around midday on May 8 – VE Day – five minutes walk from her home.

It is understood she may have been heading to a skate park three miles away in nearby Emsworth and had told friends she would be back later.

Officers have been scouring the local area including woodland and a nearby lake and found a body yesterday.

A Hampshire Police spokesman said formal identification had not yet taken place but Louise’s family had been informed and were being supported by specialist officers.

A dog walker talks to a police officer at the scene in Havant Thicket, where a body was found during the search for Louise Smith

A dog walker talks to a police officer at the scene in Havant Thicket, where a body was found during the search for Louise Smith

A dog walker talks to a police officer at the scene in Havant Thicket, where a body was found during the search for Louise Smith

There was a heavy police presence at the scene in Havant Thicket, where the body was found, this morning

There was a heavy police presence at the scene in Havant Thicket, where the body was found, this morning

There was a heavy police presence at the scene in Havant Thicket, where the body was found, this morning

Louise lived with her mother Ms Cooper and stepfather Richard O’Shea and was described by a neighbour as ‘vulnerable’.

A spokesman for Hampshire Constabulary said last night: ‘Officers searching for missing Louise have discovered a body in Havant.

‘Formal identification has not yet taken place but Louise’s family have been informed and are being supported by specialist officers.

‘We are treating the death as suspicious and are continuing to investigate the circumstances.’

Detective Chief Superintendent Scott Mackechnie said: ‘Officers located a body in an area of woodland in Havant Thicket.

‘We know that news of this discovery will be very upsetting for the community, so I want to reassure you that we will be working around the clock to establish what has happened.

‘We will endeavour to provide you with further updates as soon as we can, but in the meantime we’re asking the community not to speculate on the circumstances and instead provide all information to the police in the first instance, as this is crucial to helping our inquiries.

‘Thank you to everyone in the community who has offered their support so far and has assisted us with this investigation.’ 

Officers cordon off the area today after a body is found in the woodland area in Havant, Hampshire

Officers cordon off the area today after a body is found in the woodland area in Havant, Hampshire

Officers cordon off the area today after a body is found in the woodland area in Havant, Hampshire

It also emerged yesterday that Louise’s mother wrote on Facebook the day before police found a body how frustrated she was not being able to look for her daughter.

She wrote on Wednesday night, I want to scream from the rooftops that I want to be looking everywhere.

‘I have been told not to go searching the Thicket and Leigh Park Gardens, any search must be away from there.’  

The teenager was thought to be wearing black jeans, a black and white striped T-shirt, black trainers and a black coat with a fur hood when she went missing.

Friends told how Louise had said she would only be gone for a short time and was expected to return home to spend the weekend with her boyfriend.

Worried friends and relatives also set up a website for people to share messages and to help co-ordinate the local search for Louise.

Kat Foy, who created a community group dedicated to finding Louise, had previously said: ‘Louise is part of a missing child investigation, headed by Hampshire Police. The country is in crisis and we remain on lockdown.

Police earlier released a CCTV image of the teenager visiting a Tesco store in Greywell Road on the evening of May 7

Police earlier released a CCTV image of the teenager visiting a Tesco store in Greywell Road on the evening of May 7

Police earlier released a CCTV image of the teenager visiting a Tesco store in Greywell Road on the evening of May 7

‘We ask at this stage that you respect the police who have not requested the public to do their own searches. They have asked if you have information to contact them.

‘They are in the important part of their search, the police are the experts at this stage. Please refrain from doing your own searches it will hinder the police. When they require the public to search they will request this, we are here to raise awareness.’

Louise’s mobile was last traced on Friday at 2pm at Emsworth skate park but the signal had not been tracked since.

Her family speculated the teenager was not going to switch her phone on, knowing the police could trace her.

Police have issued a CCTV image showing Louise leaving a Tesco store on the evening before she disappeared.

An eyewitness said she had gone to the supermarket twice, once with her cousin’s husband earlier in the afternoon and then on her own in the evening.

He said: ‘I saw Louise enter Tesco with another man, her cousin’s husband, in the afternoon and then I saw her later in the day on her own buying a bag of ice.’

Earlier this week Hampshire Constabulary said mobile phone footage of VE Day celebrations filmed in Havant could be key to their investigation.

The force urged anyone with footage of celebrations on their doorsteps or in their neighbourhood in Havant to come forward in case it gave them clues about Louise’s disappearance.

Anyone with information should call police on 101, quoting 44200163113, or you can contact the independent charity Crimestoppers 100 per cent anonymously on 0800 555 111.

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