A police force has told the mother of a murdered seven-year-old schoolgirl they are no longer investigating her death just as the officer in charge of the case has announced she has taken up a role in a reality TV show.
Assistant Chief Constable Lisa Theaker was the officer in charge of the investigation into the 1992 murder of Nikki Allan in Sunderland while a senior detective with Northumbria Police.
She moved to Cleveland Police in 2019, but still maintained control of the high-profile and decades long murder hunt.
However, Ms Theaker has caused controversy by becoming the first serving police officer to accept a key part in Channel 4’s Hunted series, where she will form part of a team tracking down celebrity ‘fugitives’ for entertainment. All previous series of the show have featured retired detectives.
Her appearance comes as the force is trying to improve its reputation following a series of scandals and a damning inspection in 2019.
Nikki’s mother, Sharon Henderson, was horrified to receive a call from police asking whether she was aware of Ms Theaker’s television appointment, before being hit with another blow when they told her that her daughter’s case was being dropped by her team.
Ms Henderson said she was ‘devastated’ at the way she was told and accused the force of caring more about its reputation than investigating the death of her daughter.
She added: ‘To receive that news would have been terrible at any time, but to get it in such an insensitive way has left me devastated.
Nikki Allan (left) was found stabbed to death in a derelict Sunderland building in 1992. Her killer has never been found, despite tireless campaigning by her mother Sharon (right)
Lisa Theaker (above) is the first serving officer to lead the team of investigators on Channel 4 ‘s hit programme Hunted, in which contestants try to evade capture for several days
The family of Nikki are pictured during the funeral of the youngster in 1992. Her body was found in the derelict Exchange building a few hundred yards away from her home
A timeline of Nikki Allan’s murder and the search for justice
October 7, 1992: Nikki Allan goes missing walking home from her grandparents’ just a few doors away
October 8: Nikki’s body is found in a derelict building near her home
October 17: George Heron, 24, is arrested on suspicion of murder
November 1993: Heron goes on trial but is cleared of murder by a jury
2014: Sunderland serial killer Steven Grieveson was arrested and later released without charge
2018: Northumbria Police raided a house in Stockton, Teesside, and detained a man following a DNA breakthrough. He is later released
‘I was shaking all over, sobbing and had to sit down on the bed to compose myself. The first thing my liaison asked was whether I’d heard about Lisa Theaker appearing on TV, they seemed concerned that it’s brought some negative publicity.
‘It was only then that they broke the news that they had dropped Nikki’s case. They had “reached the end of the line” as she put it. They seemed more concerned about the force’s reputation over this stupid TV show than dropping Nikki’s case.
‘If Lisa Theaker wants to go and be a star that’s up to her but I don’t think she should be a police officer at the same time. I want someone who will commit themselves to investigating my daughter’s murder properly, not someone who is concerned about a career on the telly.
‘They were at pains to point out she was doing it in her own time but I don’t care about a stupid TV show, I care about seeing justice for my girl nearly 30 years after she was murdered.’
Ms Theaker took over the murder investigation while a senior detective at Northumbria Police before moving to Cleveland Police, where she rose through the ranks to become Assistant Chief Constable.
She remained the officer in charge of the case, though, throughout that period.
She will make her first appearance next month in a celebrity edition of the show, where the fugitives will include former Olympic sprinter Iwan Thomas, drag queen The Vivienne and Ollie Locke-Locke, from TV show Made In Chelsea.
Mrs Theaker, who is filmed swearing in the programme, used her holiday allowance to take part.
Her decision to appear on the show has been met with ridicule, though, as Cleveland Police is currently trying to restore its reputation after becoming the first force in England and Wales to be rated inadequate by the police watchdog across all areas of performance in September 2019.
The rating effectively placed it in special measures and Mrs Theaker was appointed as chief of staff to lead the response into the watchdog’s findings.
And only last week Cleveland, was named the most crime- ridden place in England and Wales, with more offences committed per head of population than anywhere else.
Only last week Cleveland was named the most crime- ridden place in England and Wales, with more offences committed per head of population than anywhere else. Pictured: Cleveland Police Headquarters
In April 2018, police arrested a former neighbour of Nikki’s grandfather in Wear Garth, Sunderland, on suspicion of her murder.
His flat in Thornaby, Stockton on Tees, was searched and items taken for examination as police announced he was a suspect in Nikki’s case.
Ms Henderson said: ‘I was given assurances by Lisa that she’d do everything to bring the person responsible to justice and I believed her, I put my faith in her.
‘But months turned into years and there was still no news, other than police coming back to say the CPS had sent the file back for further questions to be answered.
‘I feel that they’ve only bothered to tell me now that the case has gone nowhere because they’ve been upset by negative publicity over Lisa’s TV show.
‘I feel desperate and devastated and wondering how to break the news to Nikki’s sister that this has all come to nothing again.’
Joan McTigue, a councillor in Middlesbrough, also accused Mrs Theaker of ‘making a laughing stock of the force’.
She added: ‘The force has a terrible name across the country and what she’s decided to do can only make it worse.’
Mrs Theaker said she donated her fee for the celebrity edition, in aid of the Stand Up To Cancer charity, to another charity dedicated to helping young women in the Tees Valley.
She told The Sunday Telegraph she decided to take part ‘to both represent the North East and amplify women’s voices, two things I’m passionate about’.
She added: ‘I want to showcase the talents of policing. It’s no secret that Cleveland Police was inspected and it was effectively deemed to be an inadequate force. But actually there are some really great people here, particularly women, who are now in senior positions.’
The CPS and Northumbria Police have been contacted for comment.