FRIENDS and family have paid tribute to 16-year-old student Ellis Downes after a body was found, following his disappearance from the River Thames on Saturday night.

The teenager, who lived in Harwell, was swimming at 9pm on Saturday just off The Burycroft in Culham, near Abingdon. 

Relatives and community volunteers yesterday searched the banks of the River Thames with police, and the Oxford Mail understands a specialist dive team recovered the body.

Thames Valley Police confirmed that a body was recovered at around 11pm from the river which they believe is Ellis's, although formal identification has not yet taken place.

The statement said the death is being treated as "unexplained" but not suspicious. 

Ellis's sister Alex Downes, 19, posted about the heartbreaking discovery on Facebook.

She wrote this morning: "There are no words to explain how I'm feeling right now, I thought I would wake up and it would of just all been a terrible nightmare.

"My heart aches so badly it hurts, a massive part of it is missing. All I have now are the happy memories of the cheeky, loveable, handsome young man I was proud to call my brother, and I will cherish those memories forever.

"Ellis, I'm so sorry we didn't find you sooner but I hope you would be proud of me for doing everything I could to get you back, I was never ever going to give up on you. I love you so much words are not enough, my beautiful angel."

A Metropolitan Police dive team was set to join the search today, but volunteer divers from Surrey-based Specialist Group International got there first after seeing Miss Downes' Facebook plea for help.

A family friend told the Oxford Mail that a body was found last night close to where Ellis went missing. 

She said: "Everyone has been amazing. The general public and family and friends have all been helping, some people have been down at the river for 18 hours.

"It's closure. It's a relief that he has been found."

Darren Downes, Ellis's dad, posted on the Harwell Village Community page: "I and my family would like to thank all the members of the village and surrounding areas that haved helped in the search, and support in finding Ellis Niall Downes. Our world will never be the same again."

'Joanne Ray' commented: "There are no words that can convey how sorry we are to hear of your loss. I just hope you feel the arms of the village surrounding you during this desperate time."

'Kymm Hornsby' wrote: "Thinking of you all at this very sad time. He will be missed by so many. A true credit to you all he was such a lovely lad."

The Oxford Times:

The first floral tributes have been placed near the burnt-out bonfire Ellis and his friends had been sat having a barbeque.

A crowdfunding page set up this morning to raise £1,000 in Ellis's memory has already received more than £860, including £200 donated in the name of diving team Specialist Group International which recovered the body.

The Surrey-based team was led by chief executive Peter Faulding, who said they were initially turned away by police when they got to Culham. 

Mr Faulding, who volunteered his services without cost, said: “We turned up with dive equipment wanting to go in and police refused access. They said they couldn’t prove our credentials so they rang up the National Crime Agency who confirmed who we were. They still wouldn’t let us in the water – I said ‘we can have him out within a couple of hours, you’re wasting valuable time’.

“Police had told the family the water was black but divers don’t need to see, we are used to working in dirty water, we just feel around. I have never been so humiliated in all my life, turning up and being told to go away. 

“We needed to be in there straight away. The family are grieving – it was a poor search by police. Never in the 20 years of my professional career had that ever happened. Earlier in the day the inspector had said ‘great come down, we will meet you there’.

“The father Darren went over to the police officers and said ‘if you do not let them dive I will get in the water myself’and it was only at that point that we were allowed into the river."

He said the dive team went into the river at about 8.45pm and found a body within a couple of hours, close to where he and a group of friends gathered for a barbecue. 

Thames Valley Police has not yet commented on claims that officers initially turned away the divers.

Supt Rory Freeman, LPA Commander for South and Vale, said: “Our thoughts are with Ellis’ family at this very difficult time.”

Miss Downes said Ellis was a former pupil of St Birinus School in Didcot and was completing a forestry course at Common Leys near Witney, the horticultural section of Abingdon and Witney College.

Yesterday she said her brother was not a strong swimmer and that it was out of character for her brother to get into the water, adding: "Ellis was not a strong swimmer - he didn't like deep water.

"The people who were with him said he swam to the other side of the river and then had to lie down on the banks because he couldn't breathe properly.

"Someone said 'I will come round and pick you up in the car' but he said no and started to swim back and half way across he started to struggle."

Miss Downes said her brother was usually out on his moped and was looking forward to learning to drive when he turned 17 on June 24.

She added: "He's a country boy - all the farmers know him.

"My dad has got a quad bike and he likes riding through the fields on it.

"He was a friendly lad and would always wave and smile when people saw him."

She said yesterday that her parents, Darren and Emma, were too upset to speak.