Police ignored trail of skier Myles Robinson in death fall

From The Sunday Times

Cara Robinson woke up at 10.30am on the second day of her family’s holiday in Wengen in the Swiss Alps to find that the twin bed next to hers was unexpectedly empty.

“Mum, Myles isn’t here,” she called out, expecting her younger brother at least to have texted their mother to say where he had crashed out for the night.

He had not and the family instantly suspected something was wrong. Myles was assiduous in texting his mother when staying out late, often using the codeword “Wengen” to reassure her that it was him sending the message.

For the Robinsons the empty bed signalled the beginning of the worst week of their lives. So worried were they that they contacted the police almost immediately and searches began.

Seven days later their most appalling imaginings became reality when Myles’s body was found at the bottom of a 330ft cliff a mile outside the village.

In an interview with The Sunday Times, Myles’s family said this weekend that they remain baffled at his death. Particularly puzzling is why the 23-year-old graduate apparently walked out of the village in the middle of the night to the remote spot where he fell.

They are also perturbed at how long it took to find Myles’s body and why the police did not tell them that, on the day after he disappeared, his scent had been tracked by a bloodhound to a spot near where his body was eventually found.

For Myles, from Wandsworth, south London, the holiday was to have been particularly special. “This was probably the happiest period of his life,” said his father Michael, 59, who runs a golf tours company. “He’d just got a business degree, he was ecstatic about finding a job with a financial services company. Plus Wengen is always the highlight of his year and his girlfriend Sophie [Harral] was coming out for New Year’s Eve.”

Michael described his son as “great fun to be with, very caring and loving to his family. He was a great friend to me”. At 6ft 5in, he was a keen sportsman and enjoyed skiing as well as golf and water polo.

The Robinsons had been going to Wengen — a resort with a permanent population of 1,300 and views of the Piz Gloria rotating restaurant featured in the James Bond film On Her Majesty’s Secret Service — for the past 15 years. They felt safe there.

On Monday, December 21, their first day, Myles tried out some skis. He had been promised a pair as a Christmas present. His parents also tried to buy him a ski helmet, but he had refused. “I could bash my head just by crossing the road,” he said.

After having dinner with his family at their rented flat in the Hotel Eiger, Myles left at about 11pm with Cara, 25, a producer in sports television, and a couple of friends. “Good night, see you tomorrow,” were his last words to his parents.

The group went to the Crystal bar halfway down the high street, then on to the Blue Monkey bar at the opposite end of the village from the Eiger.

“He was playing pool and chatting to loads of people, he was very happy to see them all. It was all totally normal,” Cara said. She left at 1.30am.

A CCTV camera filmed Myles and his friend Amy O’Brien leaving the Blue Monkey at 2.19am. He walked her to the Résidence building a stone’s throw away, where she was staying. They chatted for about 20 minutes before he left her. He never made it back to the Eiger.

At midday the next day the family alerted the police that he was missing. That afternoon a police bloodhound sniffed one of Myles’s sweaters and picked up his trail from outside the Résidence.

Rather than head through the village back towards the Eiger, it scurried down a narrow tarmac path that leads to the Moenchsblick viewpoint, a 20-minute walk away.

It is a pleasant mile-long walk through woods and fields, passing the odd chalet and hotel, but not one that would be an obvious choice in the middle of the night.

Indeed, Myles’s parents believed he had never been there before. His mother Sarah, 59, a former chairwoman of the British Alpine Racing Ski Clubs, said: “I’ve been coming here for 40 years and I’ve never been there.”

A short distance away from the benches at the viewpoint, the snow-clad ground slopes at 45 degrees through fir trees for some 20 yards before a sheer drop down a 330ft cliff to the valley below. Here the scent trail went dead. For some reason the police kept this a secret.

Last Sunday the family started their own search with 70 volunteers and even consulted a local psychic who has helped the police, but his advice proved worthless.

Last Tuesday one of the family’s search parties, wearing helmets, explored the valley below the clifftop where, still unknown to all but the police, Myles’s trail had been lost.

They spotted a sock in a tree and then Myles lying near a big boulder, a block of ice next to his head. He had no shoes on and only one sock. A shoe was found later, by a local man, near the viewpoint on the cliff.

“The police asked us if we wanted to see the body but they said it wasn’t a pretty sight. They said we could wait until the next day when the post-mortem would have been carried out in Berne and they could have presented him to us in a more dignified way,” Michael recalled.

Michael told his wife and daughter: “Whether we see Myles now or tomorrow, it will be our last image of him and we should think twice about seeing him in a tent on the spot.” The family decided to wait.

Police told them the post-mortem showed Myles had a blood-alcohol rate equivalent to eight small bottles of beer. That same afternoon the police finally told the family about the bloodhound finding his trail.

Rose-Marie Comte, a police spokeswoman, confirmed this weekend that officers had not searched the base of the cliff on foot “because for security reasons we would only send people in emergencies, it was thawing and very dangerous with boulders and ice falling”.

The family curtailed their stay in Wengen on New Year’s Day, taking unanswered questions home with them. “The main question is why he walked where he walked,” said Michael. “That will always be a mystery to us. I just can’t imagine him walking as far as he did at 3am in completely the wrong direction.”

Perhaps, he added, Myles wanted “to go for a walk to think about life and his new job”. Perhaps he saw the lights of Lauterbrunnen down in the valley and mistook them for those of Wengen. How the accident happened also remains a puzzle. “It’s possible he slipped on something and knocked himself out against a tree and then fell. But we don’t know whether he was conscious or not when he was falling,” said Cara.

The family accepted the police’s conclusion that there was no evidence of a crime. His injuries were consistent with a fall through woods and down the cliff and there were no traces of his fighting an assailant.

However, they do not see Myles’s alcohol rating as a satisfactory explanation. “With respect, the equivalent of eight small beer bottles is quite normal for someone his age, and he was tall,” said Cara. “He could certainly handle his drink. He wasn’t legless walking out of the bar.”

Sarah added: “His friend Amy said she didn’t think he was too bad at all. And they had a long chat in front of her home.”

The family also questioned how the police handled the disappearance. “Why did it take so long to find the body and why was it found by our friends and not the authorities? Why didn’t they look at the bottom of the cliff?” Michael said.

The family spent New Year’s Eve at a friend’s chalet “because that’s what Myles would have wanted”, but stayed away from the midnight countdown in the main village street.

“At least Myles died in a place he really loved, albeit in a horrible way. We just hope he died quickly,” Sarah said.

Michael added: “I’m just glad we have him now and he is not lying out there somewhere. It would have been dreadful if we’d never found him. Now we can do the decent thing and bury him.”

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