Western Australia Police Commissioner Chris Dawson has detailed the crucial hours before Cleo Smith was found, recalling a phone call at midnight from colleagues confident they had a “strong lead”.
“We’d been following some leads up and just after midnight I got a call to say, ‘look we’ve got a strong lead’, and they briefed me on it and said, ‘we’re going to have to get into this house’,” he told 6PR Wednesday morning.
“They broke into the house, and she was in there.”
Dawson said a short time later he was able to view body-worn camera footage from the rescue, revealing the moment Cleo was found inside a locked Carnarvon house brought him to tears.
“It unashamedly brought a tear to the eye. It’s just so remarkable, and I’m just so proud of the way they worked their way through this,” he said.
Detectives found Cleo in the early hours of this morning after breaking their way into the house in Carnarvon, about 70km from the campsite where the 4-year-old disappeared 18 days ago.
A 36-year-old man from Carnarvon is now in custody and is being questioned by police, with neighbours revealing new information about the man’s movements in the lead-up to Cleo being found.
“It’s my privilege to announce that in the early hours of this morning, the Western Australia Police Force rescued Cleo Smith,” Deputy Commissioner Col Blanch said in a statement on Wednesday morning, adding that “Cleo is alive and well”.
“A police team broke their way into a locked house in Carnarvon about 1am. They found little Cleo in one of the rooms.
“One of the officers picked her up into his arms and asked her ‘what’s your name?’ She said – ‘My name is Cleo’.”
Cleo was reunited with her parents a short time later.
Deputy Commissioner Col Blanch said police reacted “in a heartbeat” after extensive searches – including of critical phone data – presented their “needle in the haystack” late Tuesday night.
“We had a strategy very early on from day one to collect everything,” he said. “We had to find that needle. Now, last night, that needle in the haystack came out and they acted in a heartbeat,” he said.
“It’s a big jigsaw, you know, everything contributed, certainly phone data helped us and that will come apparent.
“But there were lots of things, that when we put the puzzle together it all led to one place, and that’s where we found Cleo.”
He added that a information received Tuesday night rapidly “snowballed” and resulted in the discovery of Cleo.
Dawson told the ABC that “there is no family connection” between the man and the family.
“I can simply confirm there is a 36-year-old man in custody,” he said.
Neighbours of the “quiet man” have described seeing him buying nappies just two days before Cleo was discovered.
One man told Sunrise he saw the man in Woolworths buying Kimbies, a brand of nappies, which he thought was odd as the man doesn’t have children.
“The other day – on Monday – we saw him in Woolworths buying Kimbies and that,” he said.
“But we didn’t click on what he was buying them for.”
The neighbour said everyone on the street was familiar with each other, but said the man tended to keep to himself.
“Everyone knows the person who stays at that house, but no one would have thought it would be him,” he told reporters.
“We were shocked.”
It was unlikely the $1 million reward offered by the WA government for information that led to Cleo being found would be handed out, Deputy Commissioner Blanch said.
Asked on Wednesday morning if it would be claimed, he told 6PR, “I don’t believe so, no”.
Another neighbour, Sahntayah McKenzie, told The West Australian that she heard a girl crying a few nights ago, but didn’t piece together that it could be Cleo.
“Not last night, the night before it … I heard a little girl crying but I wouldn’t expect it to be Cleo,” she said.
“I didn’t expect it would happen in this little neighbourhood, a lot of people know each other.”
Another local, Rennee Turner, told the publication she had done a construction course with the man, describing him “very quiet”.
“Definitely wouldn’t have picked him … it has completely derailed me,” she said.
“I’d heard whispers … I kind of figured the police might have had an idea of what was going on, because I have never seen such a massive amount of cops here for so long.”
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