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A key part of the extraordinary investigation that led to the rescue of Cleo Smith was the clearing of her parents from any suspicion of guilt, after police monitored the couple and tapped their phones before concluding they were definitely not involved.
After the four-year-old went missing in highly unusual circumstances from her mum and step father’s tent while camping in Western Australia on October 16, suspicion unfairly – but inevitably – fell on them.
Initially, police said they ‘weren’t ruling anything out’ in relation to her bizarre disappearance, which took place in the middle of the night with nothing but a few shaky leads.
But authorities, and even the West Australian Premier, Mark McGowan, definitively ruled out Ellie Smith and Jake Gliddon as suspects after intense surveillance in the midst of epic investigations that will go down in police folklore.
Cleo was rescued from a Carnarvon home on Wednesday before 1am in what is being regarded as a world-leading operation, bursting through a door and finding the little girl sat alone in a room playing with toys.
A key part of police’s extraordinary investigations that led to them rescuing the abducted Cleo Smith was the definitive dismissal of her parents (pictured) from any suspicion of guilt
Cleo was rescued from a Carnarvon home on Wednesday before 1am in what is being regarded as a world-first operation – much to the delight of her mother (pictured, her Instagram post after the little girl was found)
Police were confident early on that Cleo’s mum and step-father (pictured with the four-year-old) were innocent of any wrongdoing
A 36-year-old Carnarvon man, with no connection to the family, is in custody and due to face charges over her alleged abduction.
So how and why were Cleo’s parents definitively cleared before she was even found?
It is understood that as soon as Cleo disappeared, West Australian police began extensive surveillance on the parents.
That involved WA Police tapping the phone calls of Ms Smith and Mr Gliddon for any conversations that might suggest guilt or show an inconsistency in their story – neither of which ever materialised.
The surveillance is believed to have been standard procedure.
Authorities are also understood to have monitored the anguished couple for suspicious remarks and behaviour, partly through ongoing interviews and contact with them.
Incredible bodycam footage shows the moment Cleo Smith was rescued by Western Australian Police (pictured)
Police often ask persons of interest in a major crime investigation the same questions several times in different ways in an effort to find inconsistencies in their stories.
Ms Smith and Mr Gliddon were understood to have been rock solid in their accounts and squeaky clean in all observed conversations.
By the second week of the investigations, with hope fading and trolls beginning to point the finger at the parents, authorities were convinced they bore no guilt and were hiding nothing.
‘We want to make it clear — they are not suspects in this investigation. They have been helping us,’ the lead investigator, Detective Superintendent Rod Wilde, said last week.
On Monday, Mr McGowan took the unusual step of publicly defending Ms Smith and Mr Gliddon.
The first picture of Cleo Smith, safe and sound in hospital, after she was rescued from a house in Carnarvon, in northwest Western Australia, where she was held for 18 days
Lead investigator, Detective Superintendent Rod Wilde (pictured) said publicly that Ms Smith and Mr Gliddons were not suspects last week
So confident were authorities that Cleo’s anguished parents were not involved that WA Premier Mark McGowan (pictured) went public to defend them
‘They say the most horrible and shocking things that they’d never say otherwise. I just urge them to stop,’ Mr McGowan said.
He added those who hurled anonymous insults online were nothing but cowards and there needed to be a return to treating people with decency and respect – particularly in a case like this where people were distraught.
Since Cleo vanished from her family’s campsite, social media sleuths filled online forums with conspiracy theories falsely claiming that the girl’s parents were involved – despite detectives making clear early on they were not being treated as suspects.
Within minutes of the news breaking she had been found on Wednesday, people flocked online to denounce those who pointed the finger at Cleo’s mum Ellie Smith and step dad Jake Gliddon – demanding they issue the parents an apology.
Cleo Smith (pictured) was found safe and ‘physically well’ in the early hours of Wednesday morning
CLEO DISAPPEARANCE TIMELINE
By Olivia Day for Daily Mail Australia
Friday, October 15
Cleo along with her mother Ellie Smith, her partner Jake Gliddon and her little sister Isla Mae arrive at the Blowholes campsite around 6:30pm.
They had a ‘quiet’ night and arrived at sunset.
Saturday, October 16
1:30am: Parents’ last sighting of Cleo in the tent she shared with her parents and baby sister when the four-year-old asks for some water.
6.23am: Ellie calls 000 to report her eldest daughter missing as she continues to search the camp ground.
6.30am: The first two officers are dispatched from Carnarvon police station. They travel to Blowholes as a matter of priority, with sirens and lights.
6.41am: A second police car with another two officers is sent to Blowholes, also with lights and sirens.
7.10am: The first police car arrives. The second is only minutes behind.
7.26am: Police on the scene establish a protected forensic area which is taped off to the public, surrounding the family tent where Cleo was last seen.
7.33am: A drone operator is called upon to search from the skies.
7.44am: A third police car is dispatched to the Blowholes.
8am: Family and friends of Cleo’s parents begin to arrive to help with the ground search.
Another group of detectives briefly searches Cleo’s home to make sure she’s not there.
They then head to Blowholes and begin stopping cars coming into and leaving the area.
8.09am: A helicopter from a local company arrived at the scene and started searching as police request an SES team attend the Blowholes search.
8.24am: Police air-wing and volunteer marine searchers are called in to assist with the search.
8.34am: Roadblocks are set up at the entrance of Blowholes as detectives gather the names, registration details and addresses of people coming and going. Police search cars.
9.25am: Nine SES personel arrive at the Blowholes to assist with the search.
Investigators, bounty hunters and officers from the Australian Federal Police have spent two-and-a-half weeks searching for missing four-year-old Cleo (pictured)
9.30am: Detectives sit down with a distressed Ellie and remain by her side for the rest of the day while other search crews hunt for Cleo.
11am: Homicide detectives from the Major Crime Division are called and begin travelling from Perth to assist with the search.
1pm: More homicide detectives and search experts are flown in from Perth.
3pm: Officers and search experts arrive in Carnarvon to offer their expertise.
Sunday, October 17
Ms Smith takes to social media to plead for help finding her missing daughter.
A Facebook post uploaded at 1:45am on Sunday which said: ‘It’s been over 24 hours since I last seen the sparkle in my little girl’s eyes.
‘Please help me find her!
‘If you hear or see anything at all please call the police!’
Police suggest Cleo may have been abducted.
Monday, October 18
Police release an image of the red and grey sleeping bag missing from Cleo’s tent.
Cleo’s biological father is interviewed by police in Mandurah and is asked to provide a statement, which he does so willingly.
WA Police with the help of SES members, volunteers and aircraft continue the land hunt for Cleo, with officers searching nearby shacks and vehicles in the area.
Tuesday, October 19
Cleo’s mother Ellie Smith and her partner Jake Gliddon front the media for the first time and describe the terrifying moment they realised the little girl was missing.
Ms Smith says her four-year-old would never have left the tent by herself.
Police release new images of Cleo and the pink and blue one-piece she was wearing the night she went missing to aid the investigation.
Investigators urge anyone who was at the campsite or in the vicinity on October 15 to get in contact with police.
Wednesday, October 20
Police reveal the zip of the family tent, which was found hanging wide open by her mother at 6am on Saturday morning, was too high for Cleo to reach.
Officers say they ‘haven’t ruled out’ reports from campers who heard the sound of screeching tyres in the early hours of Saturday morning.
Deputy Police Commissioner Daryl Gaunt confirms officers are investigating the whereabouts of 20 registered sex offenders in the Carnarvon area.
Thursday, October 21
The WA Government offers a $1million reward for information that leads to Cleo’s location announced by WA Premier Mark McGowan.
‘All Western Australians’ thoughts are with Cleo’s family during what is an unimaginably difficult time,’ Mr McGowan said.
‘We’re all praying for a positive outcome.’
The speed of the reward being issued – within days of her disappearance – was unprecedented.
Pictured: Police are seen examining rubbish left near the Blowholes campsite in remote WA
Monday, October 25
WA Police confirm Cleo was definitely at the camp site – on CCTV footage on a camera installed inside a beach shack just 20 metres from the family tent she disappeared from.
Tuesday, October 26
Forensic officers and detectives spent much of the day at her home in Carnarvon, 900km north of Perth, on Tuesday and left with two bags of evidence.
Although investigators had been to the home before, this was the first time they thoroughly searched inside with a forensics team.
Acting WA Police Commissioner Col Blanch said the search of the family home was ‘standard practice’ and did not indicate they were suspects in Cleo’s disappearance.
Wednesday, October 27
WA Police forensics officers return to the Blowholes campground and are seen collecting soil samples from a number of campfires near shacks in the area.
The federal government announce Australian Federal Police officers had been drafted in to support forensic and intelligence efforts.
Friday, October 29
Police return to the Blowholes camp to analyse the area with drones.
Detective Superintendent Rod Wilde returns to the Blowholes campsite to join the search for Cleo as the search hit the two-week mark.
He confirms national and international agencies are engaged in the search for Cleo.
Sunday, October 31
Detectives go door-knocking at a number of homes along the North West Coastal Highway in the North Plantations, 5km from Cleo’s hometown on Sunday.
Monday, November 1
Detectives sort through mounds of rubbish from roadside bins located hundreds of kilometres away from the campsite she vanished from.
The material was transported to Perth, where forensic officers and recruits sorted through hundreds of bags in search of items that may have helped them find Cleo.
Officers issue a plea for dash cam and CCTV footage from within a 1000km radius of where the four-year-old disappeared.
Police renew an appeal for more businesses in Carnarvon to provide footage and go door to door in an industrial area on the outskirts of the town.
Her elated mother, Ellie, (pictured, with Cleo, her partner and younger daughter) broke her silence the morning Cleo was found, sharing a series of love heart emojis on Instagram
Wednesday, November 3
After two-and-a-half weeks of searching Cleo Smith is found alive and well in the early hours of November 3.
WA Police Deputy Commissioner Col Blanch confirmed just before 7am AEST that little Cleo is alive and well and had been reunited with her relieved parents.
‘One of the officers picked her up into his arms and asked her ‘what’s your name?’ he said. ‘She said: ‘My name is Cleo’.’
Ellie Smith posted to social media: ‘Our family is whole again’.
A Carnarvon man is currently in custody and being questioned by detectives.
On October 19, Ellie Smith (pictured) and her partner Jake Gliddon fronted the media for the first time and begged the public to report any information ‘big or small’