Police had searched area where missing teen was - but didn't see him

Police searched the area around Abbey Farm Play Area, Blunsdon, Swindon, for missing James Phillips several times before eventually finding his body eight days later. <i>(Image: Newsquest)</i>
Police searched the area around Abbey Farm Play Area, Blunsdon, Swindon, for missing James Phillips several times before eventually finding his body eight days later. (Image: Newsquest)

Police had searched the field where the body of missing teen James Phillips was located several times before they eventually found him, an inquest heard.

The 19-year-old went missing on October 15, 2021, and despite an extensive police operation to find him, including a public appeal, he remained missing for eight days until he was discovered in a hedge line near Abbey Farm Play Park.

On the second day of an inquest into his death, Wiltshire Police confirmed that it had first searched that area, identified as a priority, the day after he went missing, and had carried out further searches involving a drone, a helicopter and even police dogs, who all failed to locate James.

READ MORE: Family say death of teenager was avoidable

Wiltshire and Swindon Coroners' Court also heard how an initial search of James' home had missed the chance to find his wallet, a key item that James had left behind which could have been used to influence decisions made during the search for him.

James' sister Aycee Estanislao had questions about why he wasn't found during the previous searches and the missed wallet, especially as she claimed that her mother Amalia Phillips had told police he was likely to be at, or near, the Abbey Farm Play Park from the start.

Sergeant Carter responded that he did not become aware of the significance of the play area until several days after James went missing after information from his friend Anna was revealed on Tuesday, October 19.

Despite this, he had already identified the area where James was eventually found as a priority because of its location and proximity to his home and revealed this was searched just 24 hours after he was reported missing.

He said: "It fell within one of the primary areas that I had asked to be searched. This took place on the second day during hours of darkness, but James was not found.

"We also searched with the use of a helicopter and a drone and with persons on the ground from Wiltshire and Oxford Search and Rescue teams."

When asked by Coroner Ian Singleton why James was not found despite these searches, Sergeant Carter explained that James had chosen an isolated area that wasn't easily accessible.

"It comes down to humans on the ground, it's not an exact science, so we are relying on people to search the area.

"The only reason the officer had sighted him on the day he was found was that he caught a glimpse of the white shirt, he could’ve easily been 2 metres away and walked past where he was because of the length of the reeds and the overhang of the trees."

He said that although James would have been visible from the air by both the drone and helicopter's heat signature cameras, at the time they were deployed James was not giving off any heat.

In the end, police were conducting a 2km search radius around James' home expanded from 300 and 500 metres, with over 1,000 fields to cover as well as bodies of water and underground structures.

“When you don’t have a lot to go on, it really is like finding a needle in a haystack. Then it becomes a numbers game and the day he was found was when we had the most resources available with 100 officers from across the South West helping and we found him within four hours.”

On the missed wallet, Sergeant Carter said: “The wallet being found would have changed the outlook that I would have given to area supervisors during the search. If the missing person has no means to cash, then where have they gone and how have they got there?”

The inquest has now adjourned and will resume next week where a verdict is expected.