Police dig up graves in search for 'murdered' Dudley teenage mother's body

Detectives investigating the 2003 disappearance of teenage Dudley mother Natalie Putt are today exhuming several graves as they revealed they are now treating the case as murder.

Police say 'new information' has led them to begin digging up a number of graves at Ruiton Cemetery off Duke Street in Upper Gornal, just metres from Natalie's home. Today they said 'at least two people' know why police had to chose to search the cemetery for Natalie, who officers fear was murdered.

The search is being carried out four days after Natalie's image was displayed to millions of viewers during a performance on ITV's Britain's Got Talent.

Natalie, who left behind her 11-week-old son Rhys, left her home in Lower Gornal to go to a shop in September 2003. The 17-year-old was never seen again. Police have carried out searches of land, rivers and lakes, and two years ago scoured farmland in Wombourne where she is believed to have kept horses.

A search team arrived at Ruiton Cemetery at around 5am this morning and are looking at four graves in particular. At least two forensic tents have been erected at the cemetery, which is between Duke Street and Thornleigh - the road where Natalie lived and disappeared from 14 years ago.

Det Insp Tom Chisholm said police are investigating four graves and expect to be on site for the next couple of days. He said:

"This is the main site for the moment, we'd appeal for information, that is what has drawn the intelligence out.

"I know this type of activity is very distressing for the family who have not seen Natalie since 2003. I'm confident someone knows what happened to Natalie Putt and where she is."

On claims the new information came from Britain's Got Talent, he said: "It is fortuitous, I'm aware it was on there. It did the same thing we are trying to do here today, raise awareness and help us appeal for fresh information. We want people to come forward."

Det Insp Ian Iliffe, from West Midlands Police's cold case review team, added: "All cases are periodically reviewed and the disappearance of Natalie has led us to believe that we are looking at a murder enquiry.

"We have had no positive sightings of Natalie in all these years and there has never been any financial activity connected to her bank accounts or any access to health services across the country, which points to the fact that she is no longer alive.

"Following a review of the information we have received, we have been granted permission to exhume a number of graves in Ruiton Cemetery off Duke Street in Upper Gornal.

"We also believe that at least two people know what has led us to this site and they may have further information which could assist our search. We would very much like to hear from them."

An 18-year-old local man was arrested in March 2004 in connection with Natalie’s disappearance, but was later released without charge.

Anyone with information which may assist the investigation is urged to call police on 101 or 0121 428 6092. Crimestoppers can be contacted anonymously on 0800 555 111.

Concerned members of the public who believe we may be intruding upon a loved one’s grave should call 101 extension 863 3137.

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