Home / World News / Cleo Smith discovered: Detective Senior Sergeant Cameron Blaine describes the best day of his career

Cleo Smith discovered: Detective Senior Sergeant Cameron Blaine describes the best day of his career

Detective Senior Sergeant Cameron Blaine has walked and talked with some of WA’s worst.

He talked with Jemma Lilley and Trudi Lenon — the evil pair who took an innocent young teenager Aaron Pajich-Sweetman from a car park before killing him and burying him under a patio.

He walked with Aaron Raymond Craig, as the fitter and turner took police to the remote forest spot where Bradley Hoddy was bashed, burned and then buried.

But yesterday, Detective Blaine said was his best day on the force — by far — after walking into the rundown house in Carnarvon, and then being able to talk to the little girl whose vanishing had fixated the nation.

Missing Girl Cleo Smith Case. Day 13. Assistant Police Commissioner Brad Royce, Officer in Charge of Detectives Cameron Blaine, Detective Superintendent Rod Wilde visit the Blowholes Campsite in Point Quobba.
Camera IconAssistant Police Commissioner Brad Royce, Detective Cameron Blaine, Detective Superintendent Rod Wilde visit the Blowholes Campsite in Point Quobba. Credit: Jackson Flindell/The West Australian

Cleo Smith was alive. She was there. But even a Detective as seasoned as Blaine had to be sure what he was seeing and feeling and thinking was real.

“I wanted to be absolutely sure. It certainly looked like Cleo, I wanted to be absolutely sure it was her,” he said.

“I said ‘what’s your name?’ and she didn’t answer, I said ‘What’s your name?’ and she didn’t answer again,” he said.

“So I asked her a third time and she looked at me and said ‘my name is Cleo’ and that was it.”

That was it.

After 18 days, tens of thousands of police man-hours, a worldwide appeal, a $1 million reward, and assistance provided from local volunteers to the FBI to secret surveillance satellites in space — Cleo was going home, to mum Ellie, stepdad Jake and baby sister Isla.

But she had to go to the hospital first. The check-ups appeared to show no signs of physical injury. That matched what detectives saw first.

And the photograph taken of that beaming smile, sitting up in bed sucking on an icy pole, melted the millions of hearts who saw it.

One of the first to see it was Premier Mark McGowan, who received it from Police Commissioner Chris Dawson in the early hours.

“He sent me a photo of little Cleo in a hospital bed sitting there smiling,” he told a press conference.

“I don’t know what to expect in these things, you never know what to expect. You hope for the best but you prepare for the worst.”

So many had had the same dread. But after dark on Monday, residents of the tucked away Carnarvon street began to get a sense that something might be brewing.

Neighbours said the man who had lived in the street for years had been acting strangely. Dogs normally kept in the back yard appeared in the front.

It was a wonderful feeling to make that call

And Henry Dodd had been playing basketball with his mates on Tuesday night when he saw police begin to circle the house.

“They pulled up, they were driving up and down about 9pm, then they ended up cracking into the house around 1am,” he said.

Those hours were spent by Taskforce Rodia making the final decision to go through that door. Detectives didn’t know what they might find when they went in — or the news they might have to share after they came out.

“We’d always hoped for that outcome but still we were not prepared for it so it was absolutely fantastic.

“To see her sitting there in the way she was, it was just incredible.

“We turned around and walked out of that house, and then the officer I was with called Cleo’s parents and said ‘we’ve got someone here that wants to speak to you’,” Detective Blaine said.

“It was a wonderful feeling to make that call.

Detective Blaine said for them to be able to make the call to tell a little girl she was going home to Mummy and Daddy — a moment captured on WA Police body worn cameras — was a privilege.

““My name’s Cameron, how are you?,” the detective can be seen gently saying.

“We’re going to take you to see your mummy and daddy, OK? Is that good?”

In this image made from a video released by Western Australia Police, a police officer carries  rescued girl Cleo Smith in Carnarvon, Australia Wednesday, Nov. 3, 2021. Police smashed their way into a suburban house on Wednesday and rescued the girl whose disappearance from her family's camping tent on Australia's remote west coast more than two weeks ago both horrified and captivated the nation. (Western Australia Police via AP)
Camera IconIn this image made from a video released by Western Australia Police, a police officer carries rescued girl Cleo Smith in Carnarvon. Credit: AP

The tiniest, trusting nod spoke volumes. The reunion soon after at the local hospital was inevitably emotional.

“Big hugs, kisses and lots of tears,” Detective Blaine said.

“Absolute surprise, and they were ecstatic. Things developed so quickly, we didn’t have much time to prepare them — we didn’t want to give them any false expectations about what might happen,” Detective Blaine said.

“We didn’t know ourselves so, it’s always a delicate process. To be able to give them that news and tell them to make their way to the hospital … It was an honour to be able to witness that reunion — and have a part in doing it.”

Reluctant to speak to the gathered media at first, Detective Blaine was encouraged, and then thanked personally thanked by Police minister Paul Papalia as he retreated revealed back into the background.

Detective Rod Wilde, who had led the massive taskforce pulled together to look for a tiny girl in a massive state — “that needle in the haystack” — credited the happy ending to hard work,

“It was just an amazing outcome. We hoped, we kept working with that belief that could get there, that we could we could find Cleo,” he said.

“I don’t know what happened, but we were lucky and we did.”

“People were in tears, it’s fair to say.”

Assistant WA Police Commissioner Col Blanch said those tears fell from the top down.

“I don’t think you have a dry eye in the house when you hear that,” Commissioner Blanch said.

“I know from the Commissioner Chris Dawson down, we have all had tears in our eyes this morning.

“I have seen bags under the eyes of our officers and intelligence analysts and specialists for almost three weeks now working on this case, a massive outpouring of relief by them.”

And of the little girl who the whole country so hoped would come home?

“She is a little energiser bunny,” Detective Blaine said.

“How she has that much energy, I wish I did, I’m about ready to go to sleep.

“She was just a very sweet, energetic girl, very trusting and very open with us. We all wanted to take turns holding her.”

For most of the day, Australia felt exactly the way.

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