Missing Cleo Smith: News conference analysed

What's hidden in the words said?

Ellie Smith, the mother of missing Cleo has given a news conference.

I’ve been asked my thoughts on the words used here. There’s a lot to it.

So, Friday night um we came obviously to the blowholes, we got here about 6.30, it was just before dark, we (inaudible) put the tent up, and a gazebo up.. Um get everything ready for both the girls, so then they could eh… go to bed

We made them dinner, Cleo she went to bed ..um.. Probably about 8 o’clock ..um.. the little one had dinner… she went to bed… we had dinner, we went to bed, um… that was about it.. we went to sleep, Cleo woke up at one thirty and wanted a drink of water… um I got up, got her some water, and yeah, she went to bed um… and I checked on Isla made sure Isla was ok… um… I got back in bed… and um.. that was it really… um… went back to sleep…um.. woke up to Isla wanting a bottle um.. as we passed the divider… as I went into the other room and … um the zipper was open… Cleo was gone.. and that was about it for Saturday morning until everything… everything started…

Basically how the tent was was we had, eh, Cleo was on a mattress, em our little baby was in a cot right next to her. We had a divider, and then we were on a blow up mattress as well, um and … yeah.. sh-she was gone and the… the tent was completely um… open, it was about 30 centimetres from being open and then… I mean .. I turned around to Jake and … and I just said that Cleo’s gone.

Well, basically, like obviously, we went and like we went looking, checking, making sure like you know she wasn’t around the tent um… and then we… we got in the car like you know driving around everywhere, we could be.. we grew up here.. we literally grew up.. a hun.. probably like a hundred metres from literally where our tent was, was like where we stayed at the same age… um so we… we just looked everywhere that we went as kids and um we couldn’t find her a-and then… and then we realised that we’d, that we’d have to call the cops that she’s not here and then we called the cops and then it all went into motion.

We haven’t really slept .. erm .. we’ve had so much family help us, um and support us, but, you know like, everyone asks us like what do you need and really all we need is our little girl home.

Interviewer: what do you think has happened?

I don’t know. and I wish I did.

No idea … there’s probably a million things… that I’ve thought of and everyone else and.. you know as.. everyone tells us they’ve they’ve searched every angle that we probably have thought of… um… look I guess the worst part is that we’ve.. we can’t do anything more, it’s out of our hands, so we just feel hopeless and out of control.

She’s beautiful, em delicate… she em has like the biggest heart, she… erm.. just so funny.. erm… sh-she loves rocks, she collects rocks…um.. she loves make up, and dressing up, she, you know, every day wants to wear a princess dress, …um… she’s beautiful

She’s so sweet, um, she’s… everything that you would want in a little girl to grow up and … yeah….

If you see anything..

(JAKE) If anyone has information or sees anything just

(Ellie) call the cops you know like we get inundated with people messaging us saying like maybe we’ve seen her here maybe we’ve seen her there you know… report it.. cos like all we can ask you to do…. because we can’t do anything… you know … if you see something report it, it doesn’t matter if it’s small or big or if you’re sure or not like we want our little girl home

Every time we get a call we just think like this is our call that she’s home, (inaudible) you know w-we sit, we sit and watch the sand dunes and we just think you know that she’s just going to run down it, and like back into our arms but …. we’re still waiting.

Some of these answers are reassuring. Some less so.


Ellie always talks about Cleo in the present tense. Very consistently. Parents of missing children who know something bad has happened will lapse into past tense at times.

There is no attempt for her to say she is a good mother. Mothers with guilty knowledge of what has happened will often try to get across what good, nurturing and caring mothers they are.


Ellie uses the pronoun “we” a lot to describe what has happened or what is happening. Even sometimes when you’d expect her to use “I”. This shows that there’s a strong connection between Ellie and Jake.

Ellie is easily able to describe the positive aspects of Cleo’s character and behaviour. Talking about these comes easily to her. She mentions very little about their relationship, how they got on with each other, what they liked to do together or how Cleo got on with other members of her family.

Ellie appears against the theory that Cleo left the tent on her own. In which case, she must think someone has taken Cleo. However her appeals are only to people who see something, never to a person who may have Cleo.

Ellie’s description of when she noticed Cleo was missing is very flat. She doesn’t describe any frantic attempt to see if she was elsewhere in the tent and her words “she’s gone” have a finality to them you wouldn’t expect to be used in the first moments you realise someone is missing.


Although Ellie says “we” a lot when telling us what was doing certain actions, she often stutters on the world “we”, this indicates what follows the word “we” is sensitive to her. It doesn’t mean it’s a lie, it doesn’t mean she’s being careful with her word choice, all it means is that the next words are stressful to her.

They stutters are:

and then we… we got in the car like you know driving around everywhere

so we… we just looked everywhere that we went as kids

we realised that we’d, that we’d have to call the cops

you know w-we sit, we sit and watch the sand dunes

Story ratio

40% build-up, 30% incident, 30% follow up.

You’d expect less build up in a truthful story. Long build-ups can be there to avoid getting to talking about the incident.

Vivid and vague

In the later parts of the interview, when she is talking about what kind of child Cleo is, Ellie is very direct and very lucid in her words. It’s easy to paint a picture in your mind built from what she is talking about.

She is much more hesitant when describing finding Cleo missing and their efforts to find her, and she is definitely leaving parts of events out.

She says, “that was about it” or “that was it really” three times when describing the night and morning. Those phrases literally say and mean there is more to it that hasn’t been said. It’s often used to skip over trivial detail, it’s also used to skip over major detail.

Ellie is vague on timings when telling the story apart from one. They arrived “about 6.30, it was just before dark”, Cleo went to bed “probably about 8 o’clock”, the bedtimes of Isla and Ellie and Jake aren’t even mentioned.

Ellie states exactly the time Cleo woke them for water, “Cleo woke up at one thirty and wanted a drink of water”. I’d suggest this is an area of relevance.

As with Ellie’s Facebook post, there is no pronoun shown around being woken in the morning. In this interview it is, “went back to sleep…um.. woke up to Isla wanting a bottle”. This consistency is worth noting.

Strange Saturday

The words “and that was about it for Saturday morning until everything… everything started” are very strangely chosen. I’m not sure many would describe waking up to find their child missing and their tent open as “that was about it until everything .. started”. There is something missing here that isn’t being said.

Ellie’s description of the search in the morning is confused and lacking in detail. From a logical point, it seems like they were sure she’d be close by and could return at any moment, but then they all got in a car and went searching. Were they sure Cleo wasn’t going to stumble back to the empty tent by that point?

One of the most concerning lines is “we realised that we’d, that we’d have to call the cops that she’s not here

It isn’t “we realised we should call the cops” or something similar. When you say you “realise you have to do” something, it indicates you’ve run out of other options, or you’ve been waiting too long, and it’s time to act.


None of these concerns on their own indicate any guilt or guilty knowledge on Ellie’s part. But a group of them together like this raises numerous questions.

Something is being missed out in the telling of the story of what happened that night and the next morning. We know Cleo’s sleeping bag was missing, this never appears in Ellie’s telling. It’s also apparent that she is skipping over details. How important are they?

It’s possible that Ellie feels responsibility for Cleo’s disappearance. Whether that is natural maternal feelings or something more worrying I wait to see.

As before, I hope Cleo is found safe and well.