The relatives of a 15-year-old missing schoolgirl have accused the Metropolitan Police of bungling the search since she disappeared on Sunday evening.
Aaliyah Chen is believed to have left through a window in her family home in south London’s Sidcup, after giving her mother a goodnight kiss on the cheek and going to her bedroom around 9.30pm. By 12.55am she was on a 51 bus travelling across London.
Aaliyah is thought to be with a 24-year-old man who allegedly started grooming her on Snapchat in 2020. Their ongoing correspondence saw the man receive a child abduction warning in July.
Her distressed family have claimed officers could have stop Aaliyah escaping with the 24-year-old just hours before she disappeared at the weekend.
Why Aaliyah’s family are speaking out
Aaliyah’s family contacted The Guardian about their concerns after reading that the Met were already under investigation by the police watchdog for their handling of the Richard Okorogheye case.
Okorogheye, 19, went missing from London home in Ladbroke Grove back in March. The case was not considered high risk until he had been missing for six days; his body was later found in Epping Forest, Essex.
His mother Evidence Joel has been very vocal about her frustration towards the police investigation.
She told Sky News: “I told a police officer that my son was missing, please help me find him, and she said: ‘If you can’t find your son, how do you expect police officers to find your son for you?’”
Why Aaliyah’s relatives blame the Met
Police initially misclassified the case as one of medium risk after the family told the authorities Aaliyah had been talking to an older man on Snapchat for four months back in February.
The man was arrested, but not charged. Aaliyah’s phone was also briefly seized by police but returned to her in May, allowing the pair to get back in contact.
Even so, Aaliyah’s case was only recently pushed up to a high risk category after the family lobbied a senior officer in person this week.
Aaliyah’s mother Obaida Chen told The Guardian: “Aaliyah, please come home if you see this. We love you and miss you, you are not in any trouble at all. I just wish the police had acted earlier.”
Chen found Aaliyah’s diary the day before her disappearance and found she had been planning to run away with the 24-year-old during the school holidays – the journal was then handed into the police.
A suicide note was also found on Saturday on the schoolgirl’s phone, leading Aaliyah to be taken to hospital – she was discharged on Sunday.
Aaliyah’s aunt Laura Rushe claimed: “The first 36 hours felt like they [the police] were wasted. Information we provided was not given to the search team.”
She added: “We have told the Met we will put an official complaint in.”
The family claim officers promised at 7.30am on Monday to visit all the addresses linked to the 24-year-old but hours later, the police said it had not yet happened.
Aaliyah was reportedly still at one particular address in Brixton connected to the man at 8am on Monday.
The Met released a statement which said: “Officers believe that Aaliyah may be in the company of an older man and a high-risk missing person investigation is under way to find her.
“The pair may have travelled away from Sidcup although it is thought that they are likely to still be in London.
“Anyone who sees Aaliyah should call 999 immediately, providing the reference CAD 4086/08Sep.”
The Met added: “We are aware of concerns raised by Aaliyah’s family regarding the initial response and ongoing investigation into her disappearance.”
The police said they were conducting “a wide range of enquiries to trace Aaliyah” and the man she may be with, and were continuing to keep Aaliyah’s family in the know.
This article originally appeared on HuffPost UK and has been updated.