THE father of a toddler who vanished without trace 37 years ago has told how he found out on Twitter that bones unearthed earlier this year belonged to a horse and not his missing child.

Former soldier Richie Lee, of Hartlepool, was based at Paderborn in Germany with his family in 1981 when little Katrice disappeared on her second birthday.

This summer the Royal Military Police dug along a riverbank close to the site of her disappearance in a bid to find her, but found only animal bones.

Mr Lee, who has been highly critical of the RMP's handling of the case since the time of her going missing, said: "We found out through Twitter that the bone fragments they found belonged to a horse.

"They (the RMP) didn't tell us until later that evening when they said they apologised that we had heard from the media and that is was their fault."

Mr Lee has now engaged top barrister John Cooper QC, who represented two families in the inquests into the deaths of young soldiers at Deepcut Barracks, to help him find answers.

He said the initial investigation was 'woefully inadequate', with key witnesses not interviewed until weeks after Katrice's disappearance, and that the RMP wrongly assumed immediately that she had fallen into a nearby river and been swept away, losing the 'golden hours' immediately after someone going missing.

And he added: "I am fed up of being led down blind alleys and having doors slammed in my face when I ask questions of the Royal Military Police."

Mr Lee said he had been asking for years to see the original case files but the RMP would not allow him access.

"It was only this year that I went to Catterick and made a statement to the RMP that I was cleared from their inquiry, that I was no longer a suspect," he said.

"If I am no longer a suspect then why can they not allow me to see the files?" he said.

Mr Lee also met with Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson last month – and said he fears that Katrice's case may be closed, or not given any more resources, after the river bank search proved fruitless.

He said he could not say what action Mr Cooper QC would be taking as it was at a sensitive stage, but said he just wanted to get answers.

Hartlepool MP Mike Hill introduced Mr Lee to the barrister during a meeting in London.

Mr Lee said: "I knew all along they wouldn't find Katrice on that riverbank.

"I believe she is out there somewhere, perhaps speaking a different language, perhaps with children of her own, completely unaware of who she really is.

"I could be a grandfather and not know it."