A bin lorry driver has told an inquest he saw a man wearing light-coloured trousers and a pink shirt, like RAF gunner Corrie McKeague had been wearing, when he drove into the area where the missing airman was last seen on CCTV.
Mr McKeague, from Dunfermline, Fife, was 23 when he disappeared in the early hours of September 24 2016 after a night out in Bury St Edmunds, Suffolk.
He was last seen on CCTV at 3.25am that day, entering a service area behind a Greggs store.
Police believe the serviceman, who was stationed at RAF Honington, climbed into a bin which was then tipped into a waste lorry.
He said: “I reversed up to do Greggs’ bin and, as I put the handbrake on the vehicle, I looked out of the driver’s window, that’s when I saw another individual.”
He said the man was wearing light-coloured trousers and a pink shirt, leaning against a wall and “looking at a mobile phone, as the screen was illuminated”.
“I thought, ‘He’s a smartly-dressed chap, he’s been on a night out’,” Mr Thompson said.
He said he got out of the lorry to empty the Greggs bin and then did not see the man again.
Mr Thompson said he did not speak to the man.
Asked by Peter Taheri, counsel to the inquest, if he checked inside the bin before emptying it, Mr Thompson said: “I did check the bin because me and a colleague of mine, we always had this thing with that particular job.
“It was over-serviced: Monday, Wednesday, Friday and Saturday.
“It always had very little in it, two plastic bags.
“I would say, ‘What an expletive waste of time’.”
He continued: “I checked it. I lifted the lid, I can recall what was in there.”
Mr Thompson said he looked “far enough to see three clear plastic bags”.
Asked if there was anyone inside the bin, he replied: “No, there wasn’t.”
Mr Taheri asked if Mr Thompson gave the bin a “good enough kick to rouse anyone inside”, and Mr Thompson replied: “Absolutely, yes.”
Asked if he would be surprised to hear that there was “more than 100kg” (15st 10lb) in the bin, Mr Thompson replied: “Yes.”
Lawyer Matthew Holdcroft, for Suffolk Police, told Mr Thompson: “The part of your account we reject is that you looked inside the bin.”
Mr Holdcroft said that the time taken for the bin lorry to enter and leave the service area was 51 seconds.
Mr Thompson disagreed with Mr Holdcroft’s suggestion that he “simply didn’t have the time to look in the bin”.
Mr Holdcroft suggested to Mr Thompson: “You didn’t take any care whatsoever.”
The bin lorry driver replied: “No, I did.”
After he finished giving his evidence, Mr Thompson addressed members of Mr McKeague’s family who attended the hearing, including his father Martin McKeague, mother Nicola Urquhart, brothers Darroch and Makeyan, and his girlfriend April Oliver, who discovered she was pregnant with Mr McKeague’s baby daughter after he vanished.
Mr Thompson said: “I can’t begin to imagine what you as a family have been going through.
“I know in my head your boy wasn’t in that bin that morning, and I take that to the grave.”
The inquest earlier heard from Alex Knowles, the bass guitarist in a band that played at a nearby pub and finished at 1am, who described seeing a man asleep in a shop doorway.
Mr McKeague was seen on CCTV, asleep, by the Hughes store for some two hours before he walked to the service area behind Greggs.
Mr Knowles said he nudged Mr McKeague with a crutch he was using, to try to wake him, and said in his witness statement that Mr McKeague “lifted an arm to wave him away”.
He said Mr McKeague appeared to have food containers around him.
The inquest continues.