VIENNA (Reuters) - Austrian police failed to pursue two leads that could have snared schoolgirl Natascha Kampusch's kidnapper quickly and averted what became an eight-year-long ordeal, independent investigators said on Wednesday.
Snatched on her way to school in 1998 at the age of 10, Kampusch was held in a cell beneath a house garage until her dash to freedom in August 2006. Her captor, Wolfgang Priklopil, 44, committed suicide hours after her escape.
In a report commissioned by the Interior Ministry, the investigators said a policeman filed a report a month after her March 1998 abduction identifying Priklopil as a possible suspect based on indications he had a sexual interest in children. He also provided a physical description of Priklopil.
But police officials in charge of the kidnap inquiry did nothing more than check files to verify who lived at Priklopil's address and then filed away the finding without further action, according to the new report.
It said that around the same time, Priklopil was questioned by police because he owned a white panel truck resembling the one into which, according to a witness, Kampusch had been forcibly bundled as she was walking to school.
Policemen who spoke to Priklopil filed a report suggesting he lacked a solid alibi since he told them he was alone at home on the day Kampusch was snatched, according to the investigators.
But Priklopil was not summoned for further questioning.
"Further investigations along these lines would have been warranted," said the 58-page report posted on the Interior Ministry's web site.
Austria's parliament voted in March to investigate the performance of the Interior Ministry because of issues including alleged mistakes in the handling of the Kampusch kidnapping.
Kampusch, now 20, said recently she was dismayed by media reports of police incompetence in her case but did not say whether she might sue for compensation.
She turned TV chat show host this month when her debut program aired on national television with an interview with former Austrian motor racing star Niki Lauda. Kampusch has said she also wants to work on charity projects.
Her case has been overshadowed since April by the arrest of a 73-year-old Austrian man, Josef Fritzl, for confining his daughter Elizabeth for 24 years in a cellar under his house where she gave birth to seven of his children.
(Writing by Mark Heinrich; editing by Keith Weir)
Austria neglected early leads to Kampusch kidnapper International Reuters