Police defend not disclosing to public that missing Ipswich man was considered serious risk to children

Suffolk police have defended their decision not to warn the public that missing Michael Leaberry cou

Suffolk police have defended their decision not to warn the public that missing Michael Leaberry could pose a threat to children - Credit: Archant

Reassurances over public protection are to be sought after police revealed a man missing for seven months is considered a serious risk to children.

Michael Leaberry

Michael Leaberry - Credit: Archant

Yesterday North Wales Police disclosed Michael Leaberry, who was living in Ipswich, is wanted after skipping bail while under arrest for suspected child sex offences.

The Welsh force and Suffolk Constabulary described the 35-year-old, of Wherstead Road, simply as a ‘missing person’ in September and November last year after he disappeared on two occasions.

North Wales Police said it had not informed the public earlier about the potential risk he posed to youngsters as it had not wanted to “undermine any subsequent criminal proceedings.”

Ipswich MP Ben Gummer said he would be seeking reassurances from police that public safety was not jeopardised during the last few months.

Michael Leaberry

Michael Leaberry - Credit: Archant

Mr Gummer said: “This is a very concerning case and raises the important issues that exist between keeping the public safe and ensuring a fair trial in the future – and also not impugning someone’s reputation who has not yet been convicted.

“I think all of us, given the events of the last few months where accusations have been made that have proved to be false, need to be mindful of that.

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“But nonetheless there is clearly a considerable worry here and I will be seeking assurances from the Chief Constable that everything was done to inform the public in a legal and ethical way.”

Suffolk Constabulary first issued an appeal to find Leaberry on September 8 last year. He had been last seen on September 1, although there was a possible sighting near Stowmarket on September 4.

Leaberry was found in Chelmsford on September 14. He had been using the name Stephen Bugman.

Suffolk and North Wales police made another missing person appeal on November 30 after Leaberry had disappeared for a second time two months earlier.

He had not been seen since September, when he was supposed to have answered bail in Flintshire, north Wales.

Yesterday in an appeal for information the Welsh force said: “North Wales Police are appealing for information to trace Michael Philip Leaberry, 35, who is wanted in connection with child sex offences in Flintshire.”

Detective Chief Inspector Simon Williams, of North Wales Police, added: “I would also appeal to Mr Leaberry directly to come forward. Due to the nature of the (alleged) offences he is considered to present a risk of harm to children.”

Asked why it had taken seven months to warn the public a spokeswoman for North Wales Police said: “Since Michael Leaberry has been missing, North Wales Police, in conjunction with Suffolk Police, have pursued all lines of enquiry to try to trace his whereabouts and safeguard the public.

“These enquiries have continued since Michael Leaberry failed to answer bail.

“Due to those enquiries proving negative, and after careful consideration that we do not undermine any subsequent criminal proceedings, we took the decision to release his full details and seek the support of the public.”

Leaberry left North Wales in January 2015, moving to Ipswich, and later to Essex. He is believed to have been in Ipswich on September 29.

In recent years Leaberry has lived in Suffolk, Essex, Norwich, Cheshire, and North Wales.

Anyone with information about Leaberry’s whereabouts should telephone North Wales Police on 101 quoting reference RC15126808.