Katrice Lee hoax: Woman who claimed to be her exposed as a fantasist

The cruellest hoax: 30 years ago Katrice vanished. Last year a woman claiming to be her contacted the family. Now she's been exposed as a fantasist

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UPDATED:

13:12 GMT, 18 December 2012

For more than 30 years they have been tormented by the mystery of what happened to their daughter.

Curly-haired Katrice Lee simply vanished from a supermarket aisle on her second birthday as her mother turned away to get some crisps for the little girl’s party in 1981.

Her family believe she was snatched, and have tirelessly led appeal after appeal for her whereabouts, convinced she is alive and is now a 33-year-old woman.

British toddler Katrice Lee, two, vanished during a shopping trip with her mother in Germany on her birthday in 1981

British toddler Katrice Lee with her older sister Natasha

British toddler Katrice Lee, two, vanished during a shopping trip with her mother in Germany on her birthday in 1981. She is pictured left and with her older sister, Natasha, on the right

The German village of Paderborn, where Katrice vanished during a shopping trip with her mother on her birthday in 1981

The German village of Paderborn, where Katrice vanished during a shopping trip with her mother on her birthday in 1981

So when they were contacted by someone
claiming to be their long-lost girl, they allowed themselves to wonder
if their nightmare was finally over.

Yet their fragile hopes have been cruelly shattered after the woman in question turned out to be an internet hoaxer.

Katrice’s mother Sharon Lee and her
other daughter Natasha, 38, received tantalising Facebook messages from
the internet ‘troll’ pretending to be the missing girl.

But after a DNA test proved the woman,
who has not been identified, was not Katrice she then became abusive,
sending upsetting messages to Katrice’s mother and sister.

The 32-year-old hoaxer was arrested
and yesterday, after police issued her with a harassment warning, the
family told of their torment.

Mrs Lee, 59, a former HR manager of
Gosport, Hampshire, said: ‘She contacted us saying she thought she was
Katrice, so we passed the information on to the police to investigate.

‘It is very frustrating to get abusive
messages. I found one in particular very upsetting – in it, the woman
told me that it was my fault that I had let my child loose in the
supermarket.

‘She said she had four kids of her own and she’d never lost one.

‘It does get you down and after everything we’ve been through it is hurtful to be sent something like that.’

Over a period of nine months the
hoaxer, from Bishop Auckland, County Durham, used different aliases to
contact the family and their friends.

From left: Sharon Lee, Kate and Gerry McCann, parents of Madeleine McCann, Natasha, and Nigel Greenhalgh, uncle of Damien Nettles

Sharon Lee, left, joins her daughter Natasha, second from right, and other parents of missing children for a Missing Children's Day event in 2009. From left: Sharon Lee; Kate and Gerry McCann, parents of Madeleine McCann; Natasha, and Nigel Greenhalgh, uncle of Damien Nettles

Natasha Lee said: ‘After the hope of
thinking she might be Katrice, the whole thing has gone completely the
other way. I feel quite angry.

‘It’s been a very emotional time and quite distressing for us.’

Katrice vanished on November 28, 1981,
when her parents were living in Paderborn, Germany, where her father
Richard, a regimental quartermaster sergeant, was stationed with his
regiment, the 15th/19th The King’s Royal Hussars.

Katrice and her mother had gone on a
shopping trip to the Naafi, the forces’ store, to buy items for her
second birthday party. Mrs Lee turned away for a few moments and – in a
scenario every parent dreads – when she looked back her daughter was
gone.

Her husband recalled waiting in their car outside before going into the shop to find his wife in floods of tears.

The family are convinced Katrice, who
was wearing red wellies and a green duffle coat, was kidnapped to order
for a couple unable to have a child of their own.

Natasha Lee with her sister Katrice and mother Sharon in Paderborn. Natasha says the family have been distressed and emotional after an internet troll claimed to be her missing sister

Natasha Lee with her sister Katrice and mother Sharon in Paderborn. Natasha says the family have been distressed and emotional after an internet troll claimed to be her missing sister

They firmly believe she is still alive
but unaware of who her real parents are and who she really is.
Incredibly, it is not the first time the Lee family have been targeted
by someone suggesting they are missing Katrice. Mrs Lee said: ‘We’ve had
three or four women contact us in the past who thought they might be
Katrice whom we referred to the police.

‘I try to keep an open mind when that happens.

‘I try not to build my hopes up as I know it is something that can be easily confirmed or rejected with a simple DNA test.’

The head of the Royal Military Police, Brigadier Bill Warren, has admitted mistakes were made during the investigation in 1981.

Mrs Lee, who is now divorced, said: ‘The checkout staff were not interviewed and sniffer dogs were not brought in for 24 hours.

‘Border control was not alerted for 48 hours, by which time Katrice could have been taken into Holland or Belgium.’

The Ministry of Defence has since reopened the case.

Last month, on the anniversary of
Katrice’s disappearance, friends and family staged a march on Downing
Street, demanding a meeting with the Prime Minister and for files to be
released to an inquiry. During a debate in the Commons defence minister
Mark Francois agreed to meet her family.