SES volunteers and police prepare for the search near Barkers Vale.
SES volunteers and police prepare for the search near Barkers Vale.

Burnt out 4WD sparks search at Barkers Vale

A BLACK sports car may be the key to a week-old mystery that began when a Land Rover Discovery was torched at an overgrown Barkers Vale gravel pit, beside the Kyogle to Murwillumbah Road.

A low-level helicopter and ground search last week was followed up yesterday with an intensive sweep and line search by 24 SES volunteers, who combed through bushland and gullies on a cattle property near where the  burnt out Land Rover was found, 500 metres south of the Barkers Vale Public School.

The ongoing mystery has sparked growing speculation in the small rural community about what is going on, and whether the police are searching for a body or a possible murder scene.

Police have limited their official comment, revealing few details about the investigation, or whether it is being treated as a homicide.

Speculation began last Tuesday after Hanging Rock Rural Fire officers were called out at 5.30pm when the 1994 model silver four-wheel-drive was reported on fire.

Since then a policeforensic team has investigated the burnt-outremains and the site for any clues to indicate whether anything suspicious had taken place at the gravel pit, and whether it can be confirmed as arson.

The vehicle has been removed from the scene.

A resident who was at the Border Ranges Centre at Wadeville on December 16 said he saw smoke from the fire late that afternoon.

The centre owners, Leone and Lee Scarlett, said police officers later asked them if they had seen two vehicles in the area, ‘a brown one and a black (Subaru) WRX’.

“Locals know a car was burnt out and all they (police) would say is that they couldn’t locate the owners of the burnt out car, and it hadn’t been reported stolen,” Leone said.

 “It might have been a brown Land Rover. It’s a bit suss and we would be interested to see what happens in the end.”

Resident Julian Sharma and his wife, Angela, rent a local farmhouse and were surprised yesterday to watch two dozen SES men and women clad in orange overalls doing a sweep-search across the property, starting from a giant fig tree just after 10am.

“They didn’t tell us anything really,” Mr Sharma said.

 “Just that a car was burnt out and I think they may be looking for the body of who owned it. On Wednesday the Westpac helicopter was flying around at tree-top height.”

Another resident north of the school said he heard police were looking for a man called ‘Rock’.

Owner of Annie’s Country Tea Gardens and Nursery, Annie Garst, said police visited her business and asked if she had seen a black WRX or a brown Land Rover Discovery.

Ms Garst said she had not seen either vehicle.

Inspector Greg Moore late yesterday afternoon said he could not reveal much about the investigation or the search.

He said the burnt out vehicle was a 1994 model, silver-coloured, Land Rover Discovery.

“We are not sure yet what we are dealing with,” he said. “We are keeping an open mind.”

He confirmed police from the Richmond Local Area Command and SES had been involved in a search for clues linked to a possible arson.

Insp Moore said the registration details of the Land Rover had been traced and it was registered to ‘a local person’.

Anyone with information should call Crime Stoppers on 1800 333 000.

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