Police seek youth who trailed Jodi

DETECTIVES hunting the killer of Jodi Jones yesterday appealed for information about a young man dressed in dark clothes who was seen following the schoolgirl on the night she was murdered.

Two witnesses have called the murder incident room in Dalkeith, Midlothian, to report seeing the youth walking behind Jodi on the approach to the path where her body was found 16 days ago.

One of them claimed they saw the same man again a week later, on the evening that police staged a reconstruction of Jodi’s last known movements.

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The calls, which are regarded by police as a significant development in their 17-day investigation, came within hours of Jodi’s mother, Judy, making an emotional public appeal for help in catching her daughter’s killer.

It is the first time officers have received a reported sighting of Jodi, 14, after she left her home in Easthouses, near Dalkeith, on the evening of 30 June, heading for a meeting with her boyfriend, Luke Mitchell.

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Her body was found shortly before midnight on a track known as Roman Dyke, just a few hundred yards from her front door. She had been stabbed in what police described as a "frenzied" attack and her throat was cut.

Detective Inspector Tom Martin, one of the officers in the case, said: "This is a significant development for the inquiry team. We now have two independent witnesses who have given us good statements about seeing a young woman who is similar in description to Jodi.

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"Both witnesses saw the girl walking in Easthouses Road towards the entrance to the Roman Dyke pathway at around 5pm and both also noticed a man walking closely behind the girl.

"Interestingly, one of the witnesses believes he then saw the same man again on Monday 7 July, one week later, the night of the police reconstruction.

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"If this is the case, we need to trace this person as a matter of urgency as he may have seen something important on the night that Jodi died."

The man police are keen to trace is described as white, stocky and 5ft 7in to 5ft 10in tall. He had short, tidy brown or ginger hair, perhaps curly or wavy on top.

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The witnesses said he appeared to be in his late teens or early 20s and was wearing a dark-coloured sweatshirt top, with maybe a hood, and dark trousers, possibly jogging bottoms. He may also have been carrying a backpack on his shoulder.

A week later, one of the witnesses thinks he saw the same man again in the same area, according to police who believe the person may be local. On that day at 5pm, police staged a reconstruction of Jodi’s last movements, with a policewoman taking the part of Jodi.

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According to the male witness, the man was walking in Morris Road at about 6pm on the way to Easthouses Road. He was wearing a denim jacket and carrying a black laptop-style case or holdall.

The witness watched him meet two friends who were of about the same age, probably in their late teens, and saw the friends give each other "high-five" welcoming handshakes before pulling each other into a hug.

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One of the young men was on a bicycle and was wearing shorts and the other appeared to be carrying a videotape. Both were wearing dark clothing and the group were standing in Morris Road, just past the Morris Club.

Mr Martin said: "This information is important and it is very helpful that we have two independent witnesses who saw a girl fitting Jodi’s description at a time when we might have expected Jodi to be in that area.

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"The man seen walking behind this girl could be a crucial witness and was seen again a week later meeting two friends. Who is this man? Do you recognise the description? Could it be you and your friends?

"If you think you know who any of these people may be, please call the police. If you think it may be you but you also think you saw nothing of importance, we still need to talk to you to help us build a complete picture of everyone who was in the area on the night Jodi was murdered."

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The witnesses contacted police separately but gave strikingly similar accounts of their sighting of Jodi and the man walking closely behind.

Their calls came within 24 hours of an appeal by Jodi’s relatives for anyone with information that might help the investigation to search their conscience and come forward.

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Two of Jodi’s aunts, Agnes Petkevicius and Diane Inkster, attended a press conference to read a statement by Jodi’s mother and speak of the family’s grief over her murder.

Police are still trying to trace a blonde woman with a high ponytail and a miniskirt who was pushing a child in a buggy along Easthouses Road in the direction of Jodi’s house on the evening of the murder.

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If the other witness statements are correct, she would have passed Jodi and the man who was following her as she walked along the road.