The Milk Carton Kids: what happened to the missing schoolboys, and when ‘In The Footsteps of Killers’ is on TV

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A new Channel 4 documentary will see criminologists Emilia Fox and Professor David Wilson investigate unsolved cases

Channel 4’s latest crime docu-series will look into unsolved British murder cases, starting tonight (9 June) with a look at the disappearance of the ‘Milk Carton kids’.

The name was given to the case of missing boys, David Spencer and Patrick Warren, aged 11 and 13 when they vanished on Boxing Day 1996.

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The boys were dubbed the ‘milk carton kids’ after a campaign by the National Missing Persons Helpline led to their faces being the first printed on Iceland stores’ milk cartons.

Patrick “Paddy” Warren, 11, and 13-year-old David Spencer went missing on Boxing Day, 1996 (Picture: SWNS)Patrick “Paddy” Warren, 11, and 13-year-old David Spencer went missing on Boxing Day, 1996 (Picture: SWNS)
Patrick “Paddy” Warren, 11, and 13-year-old David Spencer went missing on Boxing Day, 1996 (Picture: SWNS)

What is known about their disappearance, what will the documentary investigate and have there ever been any suspects? This is what you need to know about the milk carton kids.

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What happened to the milk carton kids?

David and Patrick, ‘Paddy’, were best friends who lived in the working-class neighbourhood of Chelmsley Wood, Birmingham.

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There was a national search for the schoolboys, however they were never found (Picture: BBC)There was a national search for the schoolboys, however they were never found (Picture: BBC)
There was a national search for the schoolboys, however they were never found (Picture: BBC)

The pair had gone out to play in the area on Boxing Day, Patrick took his red Apollo bike which he had received as a Christmas present the day before.

Patrick said he intended to go and visit one of his brothers.

Just after midnight, the boys were seen at a petrol station in the area and had been given biscuits by the shop clerk who worked there. This was to be the last sighting of the boys.

On the morning of 27 December, they were reported missing by their parents. Patrick’s bike was found abandoned behind the bins of the petrol station.

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At first, the case was considered a runaway, there was no indication they had come to any harm.

However, police soon began a manhunt for the boys. Their bodies were never found.

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Was anyone ever charged with their disappearance?

In 2003, West Midlands police did arrest a man in connection with the case but he was never charged and was later released on bail.

Convicted murderer and paedophile Brian Field was interviewed in connection with their disappearance, a decade after they vanished, in 2006.

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In 2001, Field was charged with the rape and murder of of 14-year-old Surrey schoolboy Roy Tutill, killed in 1968.

Field had been living near to the Chelmsley Wood area in 1999, when he was stopped for drink driving and later connected to Tutill’s murder.

He denied any involvement in the milk carton kids’ disappearance and was never charged, police said he was one of several lines of inquiry.

Field’s arrest came after police launched a re-appeal for any information and claimed they were “closer than ever” to catching the abductor.

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As part of the new investigation, police also dug up a field in Old Damson Lane, near where the boys were last seen. The search was abandoned after several weeks as no evidence had been gathered.

In November last year, remains were found just 600 yards away from the fields by workmen. They were subjected to forensic and archaeological analysis, but police revealed there was no link to the missing schoolboys.

In 2016, David's brother Lee O'Toole appealed to the public for new information. He said the family needed to be able to find him and “lay him to rest”.

No one has ever been charged in connection with David and Patrick’s disappearance.

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What is ‘In the Footsteps of Killers’ about?

The Channel 4 documentary will take a forensic look at the case, presented by criminologist Professor David Wilson and Emilia Fox.

Appearing on ITV’s This Morning, Wilson said he always wanted to know what happened to the boys and believes the police were not rigorous enough in their search, due to the boys being from a working-class community.

He told Philip Schofield and Holly Whilloughby: “I started to teach in Birmingham just a few months after David and Patrick went missing. I kept wanting to know what happened in that case. Why hasn't this case been solved?

"Of course the more one looks at it the more one realises it's about class. These are two boys who go missing from a particularly working class background area of Chelmsley Wood in Birmingham.

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"I would suggest if they had gone missing in Solihull, Moseley or Edgbaston, rather more upmarket areas in Birmingham, that case might have been taken more seriously right from the start."

The documentary is said to lead to a ‘prime suspect’.

When is ‘In the Footsteps of Killers’ on TV?

The documentary airs tonight (9 June) on Channel 4 at 10pm, as part of a three part series about unsolved murders.

The other two episodes will air on successive Wednesdays, at 10pm.