‘It just lives with you all of the time’ say parents of missing Colchester man

Parents of long-term missing person Anthony Stammers. Julie and Rob Stammers, whose son Anthony has

Parents of long-term missing person Anthony Stammers. Julie and Rob Stammers, whose son Anthony has been missing since 2012. Picture: GREGG BROWN - Credit: Gregg Brown

How are families affected when loved ones go missing for years without trace?

Parents of long-term missing person Anthony Stammers. Julie and Rob Stammers, whose son Anthony has

Parents of long-term missing person Anthony Stammers. Julie and Rob Stammers, whose son Anthony has been missing since 2012. Picture: GREGG BROWN - Credit: Gregg Brown

Rob and Julie Stammers keep a candle burning as a symbol of hope their son will return.

It is a belief that has kept the Colchester couple strong throughout the five “torturous” years, which followed Anthony’s disappearance “into thin air”, aged 27. “His return is all I wish for,” said Julie. “I still believe with all my heart that he is out there.”

Anthony was last seen on May 27, 2012, when he told his mother he was going to meet friends in London and might not return home that night. He asked her to leave a pair of black trousers out for his grandfather’s funeral.

But he never met his friends and was absent from the funeral. The following day Anthony was reported missing; he has never been seen since.

Parents of long-term missing person Anthony Stammers. Julie and Rob Stammers, whose son Anthony has

Parents of long-term missing person Anthony Stammers. Julie and Rob Stammers, whose son Anthony has been missing since 2012. Picture: GREGG BROWN - Credit: Gregg Brown

The disappearance left Julie in “sheer panic” while Rob said it “caught us completely unaware”.

“A lot of things go through your head as to the whys and wherefores,” he added.

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“It was as if he had literally disappeared into thin air.”

Official figures suggest around 370 people go missing every day in England and Wales. In Suffolk and Essex alone, police received more than 9,000 calls last year.

SULSAR teams look for missing Corrie McKeague in 2016. Picture: GREGG BROWN

SULSAR teams look for missing Corrie McKeague in 2016. Picture: GREGG BROWN - Credit: Gregg Brown

While around three quarters of cases are resolved within 24 hours and 98% within a week, some people stay missing several years. Others are never found. Suffolk police currently have 91 “inactive cases” for people who disappeared without a trace.

In the days after Anthony’s disappearance, Julie and Rob organised searches in the hope of finding him. He had been close to his grandfather and it was first thought Anthony may have needed time to come to terms with his death. His parents acknowledge he’d been depressed.

Described as an outgoing, intelligent and confident young man, with a wide circle of friends, Anthony had struggled to find work. “We don’t know what could have triggered his disappearance,” said Rob. “But he was going through a pretty down period.”

Julie said she had been through “very dark moments” since.

According to the Missing People charity, the feelings of family members do not diminish over time. Living in Limbo, its study into the experiences of loved ones left behind, highlights a broad spectrum of responses.

Emotions are said to range from sadness, worry, guilt and hope. Family members quoted in the report describe highs of hopefulness contrasted with lows of despair, coupled with physical symptoms of sleeplessness, stress and deteriorating health. Others described a “rollercoaster ride”, affecting relationships with friends, family and even strangers. A psychologist used the term “ambiguous loss” where a person is physically absent but still present in families’ minds.

According to the charity’s Amy Walker, the responses are as varied as the reasons for disappearance. “From much of the feedback that we’ve had, however, a big part of it is not knowing,” she added. “Families feel stuck in limbo where they’re not grieving but are not sure where to go with their emotions.”

Since Anthony’s disappearance, Julie said “every day had been torture”. Alongside the strain of not knowing, ordinary events can pose new dilemmas. The couple recently needed to replace their car but feared Anthony may be deterred by an unfamiliar vehicle in the driveway. Julie even said she was reluctant to try new hairstyles in case her son struggled to recognise her.

Family celebrations have become subdued. The couple recently marked their Ruby wedding anniversary “but we didn’t throw a party”.

“It’s always in the back of your mind,” said Rob. “It sounds a bit melodramatic, but every day is about hoping that Anthony will contact us or there will be some sort of breakthrough. It just lives with you all the time. It’s something you can’t understand until you experience it.”

The couple meet relatives of missing people at events organised by the charity. Julie has called its 24/7 helpline for support during “particularly horrendous” periods. “They’re just really kind and thoughtful people,” she said.

Like many of the relatives the charity works with, Rob and Julie continue searching for their son wherever they go. “It’s like finding a needle in a haystack,” Rob admits. However, on trips to new towns they take posters to leave with the Salvation Army or Town Pastors. They drop in to libraries, which Anthony used to visit.

Even Shane MacGowan, the Pogues singer and Anthony’s idol made a video appeal. For all the appeals and police support, for which they are grateful, Julie and Rob are no closer to finding their son.

“We just want to tell him that we love him,” said Julie.

Ongoing appeals

Suffolk police’s website features ongoing appeals for long-term missing people from the county.

Among those featured are RAF airman Corrie McKeague, who was last seen in Bury St Edmunds in the early hours of Saturday, September 24; Luke Durbin, from Hollesley, who went missing in the early hours of Friday May 12, 2006, and mother-of-two Amanda Duncan, missing since 1993.

Ms Duncan was 26 when she went missing, disappeared from the Portman Road area of Ipswich on the night of Friday, July 2.

Police believe that the single mum, from Ballliol Close, Woodbridge, had been working as a prostitute.

She left two sons - Jamie and Damien, aged three years and nine months at the time of the disappearance.

There are concerns she may have come to harm, however no evidence was ever uncovered to show she was the victim of an abduction or attack.

Visit here to view details of missing people in Suffolk and how to report new evidence.

Police response

Police say the “golden hour” is essential in missing person investigations.

Tim Peters Detective Inspector for Human trafficking and Exploitation, On Line Investigations and Missing Persons Suffolk Constabulary’s team said it was vital for officers to act quickly while evidence was fresh.

“The earlier you can get to the heart of the problem and identify what the key lines of enquiry are, they better the chances are of finding someone quickly,” he added.

Investigations begin in the control room with a questionnaire covering key areas that could trigger a risk warning such whether a disappearance is “significantly out of character”.

Teams are dispatched to the scene to make “quick fire inquiries”, including interviews and checking telephone, email, social media and bank accounts to find “proof of life”.

Det Con Dave King, missing person co-ordinator said a missing mobile phone signal could be a “massive factor”.

If a person is not located quickly,officers can view other personal records to find clues.

“It’s not on tap, but if it’s high risk we can engage them,” said Dc King.

Det Insp Peters said while people who go deliberately missing to sever ties with their old life are “extremely rare”, they were also the hardest to trace. “They tend to make preparations,” he said. “Ditch their phones, stop using cash machines - they will have thought these things through.”

By 48hrs, he says officers will be able to accurately assess the situation and then follow enquiries until they get a result.

But in the rare situations where a person is not found after months or even years, the case can become inactive.

“They’re still on our record – they’ll never go away,” said Det Insp Peters.

“But there does come a point when they have to become dormant because we’ve exhausted all lines of enquiry.

“That doesn’t mean we put it on a shelf for dust to pile up; if there’s any new information that comes to light at any time, we’d reconsider the whole investigation all over again.”

A spokesman for Essex Police said: “Some cases may be demanding and take a considerable time and resource to resolve but they will always be something we should be doing to make sure our communities and the people who live in them are safer.”