A young mother who went missing after going out to buy cigarettes most likely died at home or nearby on the day she disappeared 15 years ago, a coroner has ruled.
Natalie Putt, 17, was last seen on September 1, 2003, when she told the father of her 11-week-old son she was going to a BP petrol station a few hundreds yards from her home.
But the “feisty” teenager, born in Aberystwyth, never returned and on Friday a coroner ruled that in “all probability” Putt “likely died at her home address or near vicinity on the day of her disappearance”.
Zafar Siddique said it was unclear exactly how she had died after hearing that two “tiny spots” of her blood were found on a T-shirt stuffed in black bin liner in a loft at her home in Thornleigh, Lower Gornal, Dudley, West Midlands.
Police forensic experts later ruled that the specks did not match blood splatter patterns associated with a violent struggle.
Earlier the inquest, held in Oldbury in the west Midlands, heard from Putt’s former partner Kevin McCallum, who was advised by Black Country coroner Siddique to be careful of saying anything in evidence which might incriminate him.
McCallum appeared visibly shaken when he told how the couple had shared a cigarette at her home while looking after their son, before she left for the petrol station at about midday, taking her HSBC bank card but leaving her mobile phone and handbag.
The hearing was told the young mum’s body has never been found, despite extensive police searches including lakes, woodland and graveyards, while proof-of-life inquiries with utility services and public bodies have all proved fruitless.
McCallum told the inquest he was aware Putt had started to see another man, Christopher Millard, after she told him she wanted a “break” from their strained relationship.
“I would like to have stayed with her. She was the mother of my baby,” he said.
McCallum admitted replacing a sim card in Putt’s mobile phone with his own hours after her disappearance, because he had smashed the screen on his own handset.
Asked directly by the coroner if he was involved in Putt’s disappearance, bespectacled McCallum denied having any part to play.
The businessman – who was questioned for three days in early 2004 on suspicion of Putt’s murder – also told the inquest that he had not argued with her on the day she went missing.
Earlier, Detective Sergeant Angela Baggott, of the West Midlands Police homicide review team, said of the police inquiry: “It’s not closed. It’s not a live investigation – as with all cold cases, they are reviewed periodically and any information that comes to the police will be acted upon.”
During the inquest, Putt’s tearful father, David Putt, said he wasn’t aware of any personal problems with his “fun-loving” daughter and expressed surprise that she had left uncashed benefit vouchers for income support and family allowance when she left the house.
“If I was going to do a runner I’d take every penny I could but she left everything there,” he told the hearing.
Putt’s sister, Rebecca Coggins, paid tribute to her sibling, telling the court: “She was just one of those people who could walk into a room and light it up.
“People were always drawn to her. There is no way on this earth that she would have left her baby. That baby was her life… was her entire world.”
Recording an open verdict at the end of the “highly unusual” inquest, the coroner said: “I am going to conclude the medical cause of death is unascertained.
“I don’t know from the evidence and the circumstances how, sadly, she lost her life. I am satisfied that on the balance of probability Natalie is deceased.
“From extensive police inquiries it’s not clear how she died but proof-of-life inquiries point to the fact she is now deceased. It’s likely that she died at her home address or in the near vicinity on September 1, 2003.”