Gardai search for missing children
Family friend believed to have gone to UK with four siblings as international hunt launched
AN international hunt continued last night for four missing children who are believed to have gone with a family friend from their home in Ardee, Co Louth.
The Eaton children, Chloe, 12; Jessica, 10; Jon, 5; and Megan, 1; were left in the care of a 30-year-old Englishman, Steven Appleton, while their mother Rebecca was undergoing what is believed to be a routine medical procedure.
Gardai are concerned for their welfare, and believe that the Englishman may have left the country with the four children, possibly for the UK.
Another woman, who is a friend of Ms Eaton's, and her two children, are believed to be travelling with the Englishman in a silver Opel Zafira people carrier with the UK registration DY 08JYF.
The hunt for the children intensified last night with Interpol joining the gardai, the PSNI and British police in the search for the children.
As gardai renewed their appeal for the public's assistance, Ms Eaton, who is British, waited anxiously for news of her missing children at her rented home in Tullykeel Lodge, a spacious, detached house outside Ardee.
The dark-haired young woman appeared drawn and pale at the family home. She said she had been advised by gardai not to talk to the media.
"I've been advised to say nothing. They are investigating everything," she said.
Abandoned toys and a basketball were visible in the garden, while the electronic entrance gates were locked.
Detectives were last night investigating a possible motive for the children's disappearance. They have asked British police for assistance in trying to trace Mr Appleton or anyone with whom he may have been in contact in recent days.
Mr Appleton, who is described as an entrepreneur, is believed to have befriended Ms Eaton and her children when they lived in Sussex in southern England. Sources said that the couple were not in a relationship. They became good friends. He was also close friends with another woman and her two children, who also lived in Sussex.
Then last December, Mr Appleton, Ms Eaton, her children, the other woman and her two children, moved to the town of Ardee in Co Louth.
Ms Eaton and her children shared the spacious newly-built Tullykeel Lodge near the town with Mr Appleton. Their friend and her two children rented a house nearby. The children are believed to have attended school locally. In January, Mr Appleton took Ms Eaton and the children on a family holiday to Florida. Holiday snaps of the group enjoying Disneyland were posted on Facebook.
Last week Ms Eaton underwent a medical procedure in hospital and left the children in the care of Mr Appleton. She was discharged from hospital on Thursday to find the children and Mr Appleton were not at home. She became suspicious when they did not return. The gardai called to her home that night, Thursday, and she reported them missing on Friday morning.
It emerged that the other woman, and her two children, also appeared to have gone missing.
Gardai made several attempts to reach Mr Appleton on his mobile phone without success and launched a major search operation. Detectives suspect that Mr Appleton may have driven to Northern Ireland and travelled from there to the UK by ferry.
In Tullykeel yesterday, few of the neighbours appeared to know Ms Eaton and her children. A number of new houses had been built along the quiet stretch of country road at Tullykeel in recent years and many are now rented out or for sale, according to one local man.
A stream of visitors called to Ms Eaton's home yesterday, including relatives who may have travelled from the United Kingdom. Gardai also called to her home but they declined to comment to waiting journalists on the progress of their inquiries so far.
Gardai have issued photographs of the four missing children and of Steven Appleton to ports and airports across Ireland and the UK. Investigators will also try to track mobile phones that the adults or children might be using.
They were still waiting for a breakthrough in the investigation by last night. Garda sources said the car was seen in Northern Ireland on Friday but it has not been seen since.
Anyone with information on the missing children is asked to contact gardai at Ardee on (041) 6871130.