A WOMAN last seen in public 17 years ago had bank cards but may not have been in control of them, police have revealed.

Margaret Fleming, 36, has not been seen since 1999 by anyone other than the two carers who reported her missing in October. The last time anyone else saw her was at a festive family gathering 17 years ago tomorrow.

However, it became apparent she was missing seven weeks ago when police attended the waterfront cottage she is believed to have lived in with 75-year old Edward Cairney and his partner Avril Jones, 56.

Read more: Drone images show extent of garden search for Margaret Fleming

The police are understood to have been asked to accompany social workers to visit Margaret, who is thought to have learning difficulties, but the couple told them she had recently left the cottage in Inverkip, near Greenock.

The couple are thought to have triggered enquiries by social workers when Ms Jones claimed Carers’ Allowance for looking after Margaret, and officials were unable to find any trace of her over the previous 19 years.

Subsequent police checks used to establish whether a person is deceased have failed to yield any evidence of Margaret’s recent life either, such as a job, GP or dental appointments or interaction with benefits agencies.

Aerial pictures of police investigators digging up the garden of Seaview Cottage, Inverkip, also showed windows ripped out by police to gain access to rooms piled high with rubbish. The room supposed to be used by Margaret is said to have contained several feet of rubbish that had to be removed to allow a proper search.

Read more: Drone images show extent of garden search for Margaret Fleming

Ms Fleming was 19 when last seen by anyone except Mr Cairney and Ms Jones, who were her registered carers.

A police spokeswoman said: “We know she did have bank cards, but her carers assisted in the managing of her finances. Search efforts are continuing, but so are routine patrols, including on the Isle of Bute.”

Ms Fleming is said to have been a frequent visitor to the island.