THE jury in the trial of a takeaway boss accused of killing a schoolgirl and joking that her body had been put into kebabs was discharged today after it failed to reach a verdict.

Iyad Albattikhi, 30, owner of Funny Boyz fast food shop in Blackpool, was alleged at Preston Crown Court to have strangled 14-year-old Charlene Downes after having sex with her.

No trace of her body has been found since she vanished more than three years ago.

The jury also failed to reach a verdict on Albattikhi's landlord and Iranian business partner Mohammed Reveshi, 50, who was accused of helping dispose of the girl's body.

Both men denied all charges. They now face a retrial.

The court heard Charlene was one of a number of young white girls who went to "Paki Alley" in the town to have sex with older men who worked in the fast food shops.

Charlene, from Buchanan Street in Blackpool, was "well and happy" but her home life was "chaotic".

Expelled from school, she spent her time hanging around shops on the Blackpool Promenade, and was last seen on the early evening of Saturday November 1 2003.

After kissing her mother goodbye she went off on her own - and "vanished off the face of the earth", the court was told.

Albattikhi, known as Eddie and who lived in Blackburn and commuted to Blackpool to run the take away, was alleged to have laughed that Charlene's body had been minced up and "gone into the kebabs" after her disappearance.

The prosecution alleged either one or both defendants was having underage sex with Charlene and they would be in trouble if the police found out.

A missing persons inquiry began but police later launched a murder investigation after information "leaked out" that the girl had been "killed and chopped up".

Detectives later bugged both men's homes with secret listening devices and claimed they could be heard on the tapes discussing sex with Charlene and her murder.

Prosecution witness Det Sgt Jan Beasant spent two years and around 2,500 hours listening to the contents of the tapes.

But experts could not agree in court on what was being said, such was the poor quality.

Mr John Bromley-Davenport QC, defending Reveshi, claimed Det Sgt Beasant was totally unqualified for the task of listening to the tapes and already knew a huge amount about the case because she was an integral part of the investigation.

He said she had visited the house where the devices were planted and had spoken to tenants in the building.

Both men denied even knowing the missing teenager.

After deliberating for just over 49 hours, the jury of seven men and five women told Mr Justice Henriques that it was "highly unlikely" that they would be able to reach a verdict.

On the jury's 11th day of deliberations, Mr Henriques told them: "It is with very great regret I discharge you from returning a verdict. There will be a retrial.

"I would like to thank you for the very, very conscientious way you have gone about this case."

He praised them for being "highly professional" in the midst of "continuous tensions and pressure".

Mr Henriques thanked the Downes family for the "admirable way they had conducted themselves" throughout the hearing.

He added that the retrial was likely to take place around January next year and would be at Preston Crown Court or Manchester Crown Court.

Outside court, Charlene's mother, Karen, said: "We're devastated that the jury could not reach a verdict."