RAF pay tribute to Corrie McKeague at memorial service six years after gunner went missing

RAF pay tribute to Corrie McKeague at memorial service attended by his family and friends six years after gunner, 23, went missing on night out and was never seen again

  • RAF gunner Corrie McKeague, 23, of Fife, vanished after a night out in Bury St Edmunds, Suffolk, in 2016 
  • An inquest this year ruled McKeague died after climbing into a bin before being crushed in waste lorry 
  • He was last seen on CCTV at 3.25am entering a service behind a Greggs shop and his body was not found
  • Tragically, Mr McKeague died before finding out his girlfriend April Oliver was pregnant with his daughter 

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The RAF have today paid heartfelt tribute to former gunner Corrie McKeague who tragically died after clambering into a bin before being crushed in a waste lorry after a night out six years ago.

The 23-year-old airman, who was stationed at RAF Honington, disappeared in the early hours of September 24, 2016 after being ejected from a night club 10 miles away in Bury St Edmunds.  

He was last seen on CCTV at 3.25am entering a service area behind a Greggs shop but his body was never found. Two years later, in October 2018, Suffolk Police said they believed his body was at a landfill site in Cambridgeshire.

Suffolk and Norfolk police spent 137 days looking for Mr McKeague at the Milton tip and trawled through more than 7,000 tonnes of rubbish as part of a £2million investigation into his disappearance. However, no remains were ever found.

Tragically, the RAF gunner vanished before finding out that his girlfriend April Oliver was pregnant with their daughter Ellie-Louise, who was born a year later.

But today his memory lived on with friends, family and and former colleagues all gathering to pay respects to the ‘loveable rogue’ whose disappearance had been shrouded in mystery for six years.

His mother Nicola Urquhart greeted mourners outside the military memorial service held at a church at RAF Honington, where he was stationed, as the City of Norwich Pipe Band played ahead of the service on Saturday. 

The RAF have today paid poignant tribute to missing airman Corrie McKeague (pictured above with his girlfriend April Oliver) who vanished after a night out in Bury St Edmunds in 2016 and was never found

The RAF have today paid poignant tribute to missing airman Corrie McKeague (pictured above with his girlfriend April Oliver) who vanished after a night out in Bury St Edmunds in 2016 and was never found

Brother Daroch McKeague and sister-in-law Cloe McKeague arrive for the memorial service for RAF gunner Corrie McKeague

Mr McKeague's family at RAF Honington for the military memorial service

 Brother Daroch McKeague and sister-in-law Cloe McKeague (left) join with his mother, Nicola Urquhart (right), arrive for the memorial service for RAF gunner Corrie McKeague on Saturday

Mourners dressed in RAF uniform arrive for the memorial service at RAF Honington held to honour the life of airman Corrie McKeague following his tragic passing six years ago

Mourners dressed in RAF uniform arrive for the memorial service at RAF Honington held to honour the life of airman Corrie McKeague following his tragic passing six years ago

In March, an inquest jury recorded in a narrative conclusion that Mr McKeague died at approximately 4.20am in Bury St Edmunds as a result of 'compression asphyxia in association with multiple injuries'

In March, an inquest jury recorded in a narrative conclusion that Mr McKeague died at approximately 4.20am in Bury St Edmunds as a result of ‘compression asphyxia in association with multiple injuries’

Ms Urquhart is pictured in a warm embrace ahead of the memorial service held for her son and RAF gunner Corrie McKeague

Ms Urquhart is pictured in a warm embrace ahead of the memorial service held for her son and RAF gunner Corrie McKeague

Mr McKeague's girlfriend April Oliver pictured with the daughter he never got to meet

Mr McKeague’s girlfriend April Oliver pictured with the daughter he never got to meet

Today the airman's memory lived on with friends, family and and former colleagues all gathering to pay respects to the 'loveable rogue' whose death had been shrouded in mystery until earlier this year

Today the airman’s memory lived on with friends, family and and former colleagues all gathering to pay respects to the ‘loveable rogue’ whose death had been shrouded in mystery until earlier this year

Gunner Corrie McKeague had ‘developed a binge-drinking’ habit following the passing of his friend

Mr McKeague’s mother Nicola Urquhart, in a statement read to the inquest in Ipswich by lawyer Andrew Walker, said one of her son’s ‘very close female friends was hit by a train and killed instantly’.

‘This event had a huge impact on Corrie,’ she said. She added that Mr McKeague had started to train as a hairdresser, then as a PE teacher, before joining the RAF. While he was prescribed antidepressants in the past, she said he was ‘back to his usual happy self’ by 2015.

Ms Urquhart said her son ‘regularly lost his phone or wallet on nights out’ but ‘was never aggressive with or without alcohol’. ‘There was nothing to suggest Corrie had any problems or concerns around the time of his disappearance,’ she said.

She said he had told her that he had ‘bumped a taxi on one occasion, meaning he had run off without paying’. She said that ‘if a stranger asked him to get into his boot to go to a party’ she believed that he would go.

The inquest into Mr McKeague’s death held earlier this year also heard that he was a ‘heavy sleeper when drunk’.

Chief Superintendent Marina Ericson, who became senior investigating officer from November 2017, said senior officers at RAF Honington, where Mr McKeague was stationed, reported him missing to police in a phone call at 3.42pm on Monday September 26.

She said it was treated as a ‘high risk’ case as he was in the RAF, his disappearance was out of character and at the time the major investigation team was also investigating reports of an attempted kidnap at RAF Marham in Norfolk in July 2016, which ‘was later discounted’.

She said there were four overarching hypotheses when she became senior investigating officer.

These were: that Mr McKeague died following an accident; he died as a result of criminality; he remains alive but held against his will and unable to contact anyone; he remains alive and is deliberately staying away and does not wish to be found. She told the inquest one line of inquiry was to look at Mr McKeague’s lifestyle.

She agreed with Peter Taheri, counsel to the inquest, that she said in a witness statement that ‘Corrie stated to a colleague he had previously slept in a bin’.

Asked for the source of this information, she said: ‘Two witnesses who were colleagues of Corrie McKeague.’

She said in her witness statement that Mr McKeague ‘was described as being a heavy sleeper when drunk’. Asked by Mr Taheri for the source of this, she said: ‘Colleagues, friends, I believe some of the family statements made reference to how he slept when he had had a drink.’

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Mr McKeague’s brother Daroch McKeague and sister-in-law Cloe McKeague were among those to appear at the ceremony at mid-morning on Saturday.

Attendees were pictured wearing yellow, blue and green after the family encouraged mourners to wear bright colours to the service to remember their vibrant character of a son.

Station Commander Group Captain Dutch Holland said in a statement: ‘I am privileged to have the memorial service for SAC Corrie McKeague today here at RAF Honington where he spent his RAF Regiment career.

‘This memorial service is an act of worship led by a RAF Padre and we ask that the family’s privacy is respected before, during and after this service as they remember the loss of a son, father and brother.

‘Our thoughts continue to be with SAC McKeague’s family, friends and colleagues and all those whose lives he touched.’

On Friday, September 23, 2016, Mr McKeague drove into Bury St Edmunds and met up with RAF colleagues to go drinking and socialising. 

He drank so much he was asked to leave Flex nightclub and was later seen asleep in a doorway with a takeaway.

At 3.25am on Saturday, September 24, CCTV footage shows him entering a horseshoe-shaped area in Brentgovel Street, behind a Superdrug and a Greggs shop, where there are several industrial waste bins.

At 4.19am, a Biffa waste lorry emptied the Greggs bin and the bin was recorded as weighing 116kg (18st 3lb).

This was around 70kg to 80kg (12st 8lb) more than its average weight. He died at about 4.20am in Bury St Edmunds as a result of ‘compression asphyxia in association with multiple injuries’, jurors at the inquest recorded.

The rubbish was taken to a transfer station at Red Lodge. Records suggest it then went to the Milton landfill site, but police have not discounted it being taken elsewhere.

Later that day, at around 3.40pm, Mr McKeague’s colleagues at RAF Honington reported him missing. 

Mr McKeague never found out that his girlfriend April Oliver was pregnant before he died, it also emerged.

In a statement, Miss Oliver previously said to her unborn child: ‘You bring me so much pain yet just as much joy. Your daddy would be so proud of you, my little one and would love you as much as I do. Corrie will be part of both of us forever, no one can take that away.’

The fitness instructor had been dating Corrie for around five months before he went missing on September 24 following a night out with friends in Bury St Edmunds, Suffolk.

She said: ‘I struggle with finding the right words because sometimes when you have to be strong and out on a brave face you forget about the precious moments that pass by.

‘Yesterday was an emotional but exciting day, and sometimes it only takes one person to help you see what you have. I miss and love Corrie with every part of my body and little things set off different emotions.

‘I can’t help but be truly unconditionally in love with my baby and you’re not here yet. You bring so much pain yet just as much joy and your daddy would be proud of you my little one and would love you as much as I do.

‘Corrie will be a part of both of us forever and no one can take that away. Mummy loves you little baby.’

Writing on the Find Corrie Facebook page in July, Ms Urquhart said that she had ‘struggled to come to terms’ with the findings, but ‘as a family we are ready to have a memorial for Corrie’.

‘The Royal Air Force are holding a military memorial for Corrie for us,’ she said.

‘I will never be able to thank the RAF for all they have done and tried to do for us, for all they did for Corrie.’

She added: ‘As this is on public ground and not on the actual RAF base, anyone can attend the service.’

The family requested no flowers and instead took a collection for the RAF Benevolent Fund.

 

His mother Nicola Urquhart greeted mourners outside the church at RAF Honington, where he was stationed, as the City of Norwich Pipe Band played ahead of the service on Saturday

Mourners arrive at the service at RAF Honington on Saturday

Friends and family arrived at the service in yellow and blue (right) after the family requested bright colours be worn to remember their son. His mother Nicola Urquhart (left) greeted mourners outside the church at RAF Honington

The City of Norwich Pipe Band play a thoughtful tune ahead of gunner Corrie McKeague's memorial service on Saturday

The City of Norwich Pipe Band play a thoughtful tune ahead of gunner Corrie McKeague’s memorial service on Saturday

Mr McKeague

Mr McKeague during a boating excursion

Mr McKeague (pictured) was last seen in a part of Bury St Edmunds, Suffolk, known as the ‘Horseshoe’ at 3.24am on Saturday, September 24, 2016 – around nine miles from his base at RAF Honington

Corrie McKeague, pictured on the night out when he disappeared, on one of the final CCTV images of him alive

Corrie McKeague, pictured on the night out when he disappeared, on one of the final CCTV images of him alive

Picture shows the Biffa bins in Bury St Edmunds in 2017 where an inquest heard that Corrie McKeague climbed into

Picture shows the Biffa bins in Bury St Edmunds in 2017 where an inquest heard that Corrie McKeague climbed into 

Corrie McKeague was last seen near a bin loading area in Bury St Edmunds in 2016. Police searched a landfill site near Cambridge for his body in March the following year. In August 2020, police discovered human bones but they did not belong to Mr McKeague, police said

Corrie McKeague was last seen near a bin loading area in Bury St Edmunds in 2016. Police searched a landfill site near Cambridge for his body in March the following year. In August 2020, police discovered human bones but they did not belong to Mr McKeague, police said

How the search and subsequent case of missing airman Corrie McKeague unfolded

September 24, 2016 – Corrie McKeague goes missing after a night out in Bury St Edmunds. He was last seen on CCTV at 3.25am entering a service area behind a Greggs shop but his body was never found

September 26 – RAF Honington report disappearance to police 

October 4 – It is revealed that his mobile phone had been tracked moving 12 miles away to Barton Mills hours after he was last seen

November 15 –  Part of the A14 near Bury St Edmunds is closed while police carry out a roadside search

January 2017 – Corrie’s girlfriend April Oliver reveals she is pregnant

February 2017 – A search begins at a landfill site in Milton, Cambridge, amid fears Corrie jumped into a bin

March 1 – A man is arrested but later released without charge

June – Corrie’s daughter Ellie-Louise is born

July – Search of Milton landfill site is ended by police

October – Search is restarted at the dump as police focus on a new section of the site 

November – A report by specialist officers concluded Mr McKeague was ‘most likely’ at the landfill site

December – Reward for information rises to £100,000. In the same month, the second search for him at the landfill site ends after police spent 137 days trawling through more than 7,000 tonnes of rubbish

January, 2018 – It is announced that search has cost £1.6million so far

March 26, 2018 – Police announce case has been passed on to cold case team 

October 2018 – Suffolk Police said they believed his body was at a landfill site in Cambridgeshire 

January 2019 – Suffolk and Norfolk police spend the next 137 days looking for Mr McKeague at the Milton tip and trawled through more than 7,000 tonnes of rubbish. No remains are ever found

August 27, 2020 – A murder inquiry is launched after human remains are found in two bin bags in the River Stour in Sudbury

September 4 –  Police confirm the remains found in Sudbury were not Mr McKeague’s.

November 13, 2020 – Inquest opens into Mr McKeague’s death four years earlier. Suspicions are raised that he died after falling asleep in a wheelie bin 

March 22, 2022 – The inquest records a narrative conclusion that Mr McKeague died at approximately 4.20am in Bury St Edmunds as a result of ‘compression asphyxia in association with multiple injuries’ 

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During the inquest into his death, Mr McKeague’s father Martin McKeague said in a statement that he had a ‘falling out’ with his son shortly before his disappearance after ‘having words’ with him about his ‘binge-drinking problem’.

In March, an inquest jury recorded in a narrative conclusion that Mr McKeague died at approximately 4.20am in Bury St Edmunds as a result of ‘compression asphyxia in association with multiple injuries’.

In their conclusion, they said his ‘death was contributed to by impaired judgment due to alcohol consumption’, that there were ‘ineffective bin locks’, an ‘ineffective search of the bin’ before it was tipped, and ‘poor visibility through a Perspex viewing window on the lorry’.

Those attending the inquest in March heard how Mr McKeague had slept in a bin before this tragic incident unfolded. He had also slept under bin bags on a previous night out, using them ‘like a blanket’, and was a heavy sleeper when drunk, the hearing was told. 

Mr McKeague was also seen asleep in a shop doorway earlier on September 24 before he awoke and walked to the service area where he was last seen. 

Waste firm Biffa initially told police the weight of the bin was 11kg (1st 10lbs) but it was later recorded as 116kg (18st 3lbs). 

The force said the movement of Mr McKeague’s mobile phone mirrored the movement of the waste lorry that collected the bin from the service area where he was last seen. Mr McKeague was not seen on CCTV leaving the area on foot. 

Members of Mr McKeague’s family, including his mother, father, two brothers and his daughter’s mother, were in court as the jury returned its findings.

After the ruling, his father wept and embraced his family as he said that he hopes his son can ‘finally be left to rest in peace’, with the inquest shining ‘a new light on the truth for everyone’.

He also criticised ‘conspiracy theorists’ who he said had misled people, saying that the inquest had ‘forced the truth out into the open for everyone to see’.

Describing his son as a ‘loveable rogue who loved to socialise and party’, Mr McKeague continued: ‘He could walk into a room and light it up. Corrie was the atmosphere and could speak to anyone. 

‘I have lost everything as a result of losing him and he is very much missed by all.’

His father also thanked Suffolk Police for the ‘amazing, untiring and exemplary work they did during the investigation into my son Corrie’s death’.

Meanwhile, Mr McKeague’s mother Nicola Urquhart today said she now ‘100%’ believes that is what happened – despite her son’s body never being found, and gushed about her granddaughter who ‘is the spit’ of Mr McKeague.

Ms Urquhart said: ‘We did have a lot of things that, at the time in the investigation, they didn’t make sense to us.

‘We’ve always said the most obvious thing is that Corrie ended up in a bin and went to the landfill.

‘We had other questions, though, and until they could be answered we couldn’t get to that conclusion either.

‘However, we’ve heard information in the inquest that we now completely believe in the verdict that the jury have given today, 100%.

‘We’ve had a long conversation with the police, with the SIOs (senior investigating officers) of this team, and it has been a really productive, genuinely helpful, lessons-learned conversation with them.

‘As a family, we’ve now all walked out of there with a huge weight lifted off our shoulders.’

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