By Thomas Mackintosh
BBC News, London
Student nurse Owami Davies vanished without much of a trace at the start of July. For weeks her last known movements were in south London, 30 miles from her family home in Essex. Despite extensive appeals by three police forces and the arrests of five people, the lead detective admitted for much of the time they were "playing catch up" and worked through over 100 potential sightings of Owami. She was eventually found in a county miles away from her home.
Over the summer Owami Davies was nearing the end of her studies at King's College London. The 24-year-old had secured a job after working as an A&E nurse during the Covid-19 pandemic. Known to her friends as Tiomi, she had an interest in doing research on diseases.
But for nearly six weeks Owami did not contact her friends or family. Neither did she turn up to work. As the missing persons investigation ramped up, the Metropolitan Police drafted in extra support from the National Crime Agency to boost the search.
On 4 July Owami Davies left her home in Chafford Hundred in Grays, Essex. Her family reported her missing to Essex Police two days later. A week later, on 11 July, Essex Police made the first public appeal, saying Owami's friends and family were "extremely concerned".
In a post on Essex Police's Facebook page, the force described her as a "black woman with her hair in two corn rows" adding "she was last seen wearing a black jumper, grey jogging bottoms and a grey cap". They said Owami had connections to Thurrock and urged the public to contact them as a "matter of urgency".
Five days after the first appeal, Essex Police issued an update – Owami had last been seen in Croydon on 6 July. On the afternoon of 31 July the Met issued their first public appeal, with more details on Owami's last known whereabouts. Their dedicated Missing Persons Unit said Owami was last seen on 7 July at 00:03 BST on Derby Road in south London – near to West Croydon rail station.
Det Con Marie Spear urged people in the West Croydon area to check their sheds and outbuildings. "Owami's family have not heard from her for more than three weeks and she has not turned up to work," she added. Police were treating the disappearance as a "missing person investigation".
"Owami was in a vulnerable state when she was last seen and we need the public's help in piecing together her movements on the night she went missing."
As it approached a month since Owami's disappearance, the Met handed the investigation to their specialist crime command, citing its resources and expertise.
On 2 August two men, aged 23 and 27, were arrested in Croydon on suspicion of murder. A property on Derby Road was cordoned off and a forensics tent was erected at the side of the home.
The following day – 3 August – police released CCTV showing Owami in the company of a man on the night she was last seen alive. Footage showed Owami crossing Derby Road just after midnight on 7 July. Detectives appealed for the driver of a white van which was seen parked on the road and driving off as Owami, and the man she was with, crossed the road. A third man, aged 32, was arrested on suspicion of murder.
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Police said Owami Davies was with a man as she crossed Derby Road on the last night she was seen
On the same day, Owami's distraught mother, Nicol Davies, called on anyone who had information about where her missing daughter could be, to come forward.
Making a public appeal at New Scotland Yard, the 46-year-old said: "There are many friends and family who love and care for Owami and all of them want to see her safe return. Every day we hope to hear the news that Owami is coming back to us; your help might make it so."
Fresh CCTV images of Owami inside a shop in West Croydon on the night she vanished were issued. They showed her wearing a white T-shirt, a navy hoodie and a handbag over her right shoulder.
On 4 August police arrested a 22-year-old man at an address in Croydon also on suspicion of murder.
Warrants for extra time to question the other three men previously arrested were obtained by detectives.
A fifth man was arrested on 6 August.
The Met then clarified the status of all the arrests as all five were released on bail until September pending further investigations:
On 9 August the Met said a second unconfirmed sighting of Owami had been reported to them. Detectives said this sighting was at about 07:00 BST on Clarendon Road – around one minute's walk from Derby Road. The next day – 10 August – police released new CCTV footage of Owami, walking north along London Road in Croydon on 7 July at about 13:20. Police said she had been heading away from West Croydon.
Det Ch Insp Penney, who is now leading the investigation, said the CCTV showed Owami wearing a "distinctive red top and heading towards the Norbury area". She asked people who had been in the area to "think back and call us if they remember seeing Owami".
"Please do not underestimate how important your call could be."
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Owami Davies: CCTV footage released of missing nurse
Six days after the new CCTV was released, the Met said on 16 August that it was possible Owami was in the Croydon area and "in need of help". They said they had retrieved 50,000 hours of footage and thus far viewed about 10,000 hours.
Det Ch Insp Penney explained the complexity of CCTV enquiries.
"Every time a person reaches a junction it can mean that several new roads have to be examined to see which way Owami went. Hours could therefore be saved if a member of the public could give a positive sighting in a particular road."
On 18 August the British Transport Police (BTP) issued its first appeal on Twitter saying Owami may well still be taking trains. In the tweet, BTP said Owami "regularly uses the rail and Tube network to travel from Grays to the Croydon area". She often used West Ham and West Croydon stations, BTP said.
The Met said it had brought in support from the National Crime Agency.
Despite the numerous police appeals and reported potential sightings of Owami, police insist the case remains a missing persons investigation.
Briefing journalists on 22 August, Det Ch Insp Penney said Owami had no money on her Oyster card and no access to her phone or bank cards. He revealed investigators had trawled through 117 reported sightings of Owami, who he said had experienced periods of depression in the past for which she needed medical treatment, and had also used alcohol to deal with the condition.
Officers said Owami has used different names, though these were not revealed.
"There is no evidence that she's come to harm," Det Ch Insp Penney said. "We're still hopeful that we'll find her alive and well."
Plenty of questions remain for the police forces who have handled Owami Davies' case since she was reported missing.
When Owami was first reported missing, Essex Police carried out the investigation. The force said detectives tried to locate Owami through financial, phone and address checks as well as speaking to friends, family and local hospitals.
As a result of its first public appeal it was established that Owami had last been seen in London, specifically Croydon.
"At this point we liaised with the Met Police and continue to do so," an Essex Police spokesman explained. The investigation was formally transferred to the Met on 23 July.
Essex Police explained that when someone is reported missing, an assessment is carried out to identify the risk of that person coming to harm and how vulnerable they are to being exploited.
They added there was a "significant amount of investigative work into locating Owami" before the decision to issue a public appeal.
"If we are able to locate someone without exposing them to that level of public scrutiny then we try and do so. However, this is also balanced with the identified immediate risk to that person's welfare."
Then as the Met Police took control of the investigation, detectives initially issued the wrong pictures of Owami.
On 3 August, the Met issued CCTV images from a shop in Croydon of a woman they said was Owami.
The pictures were picked up by a national, regional and local media outlets who reported them as part of broadcast and online coverage.
Hours later the force apologised and withdrew the images, saying they were not of Owami, but of another woman.
On 21 August the police watchdog confirmed it had received a referral from the Met Police after it emerged officers had spoken to Owami on 6 July – the day she was reported missing.
Officers were called to an address on Clarendon Road, in Croydon, over concerns about the welfare of a woman.
Police attended and called the London Ambulance Service, but the woman told them she did not want help and left.
Owami had not yet been marked as a missing person on the police database at the time.
The force said it only later established the woman they had spoken to was Owami as a result of their missing person investigation.
Just before 17:00 on 23 August the Met Police announced that Owami had been located safe and well in Hampshire.
Where in Hampshire, it is not quite clear yet, but on that morning a member of the public contacted police having seen one of the many media appeals.
Det Ch Insp Penney said it was the 118th sighting of Owami.
"This is the outcome we were all hoping and praying for," he said.
"My team have been working around the clock to find Owami and we are immensely relieved she has been found.
"I would like to sincerely thank the media and public for sharing appeals to find Owami. Your help in cases like this is crucial and we are very grateful.
Officers will now try to "compassionately" establish how and why Owami disappeared adding that she "probably was" aware of the scale of the search for her, given the publicity.
The Met said it would now review its investigation along with Essex Police.
All five men who were arrested as part of the investigation remain on police bail and a decision on what happens next to them would follow a "full debrief".
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By Thomas Mackintosh