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I just waved her off that night and said ‘bye, I’ll see you later’
IN THE kitchen of their family home, Hannah had laughed and danced with her mum as she got ready to go out for the night with friends.
At the door, Hilary waved her off and, like any other parent to a child, she smiled and said ‘bye, see you later’.
She was not to know they would be the last words she would say to her daughter.
“I just wish I had given her a big hug that night. I don’t think I even gave her a kiss goodbye, but I suppose you can always have regrets.”
Hilary, then a nurse working in the cardiac high dependency unit at Southampton General Hospital, only realised something was wrong the following morning when she woke and got up to find the door to Hannah’s bedroom wide open.
“I went to work and I just remember having this really bad feeling. A mum thing I guess. I kept trying her phone but there was no answer, repeat dialling but there was nothing. I started frantically phoning her friends.”
It was Hannah’s younger sister Sarah, just 14 at the time, who rang her mum and told her Hannah had last been seen by her best friend Helen starting the short walk home to their house in Grosvenor Road.
Hilary raced home and called police. She then watched as her home became the centre of a mass hunt for the teenager – with police officers and sniffer dogs drafted in to the detached property.
“At the time I thought that they were not taking it seriously. When they initially came to the house I wanted them to cut all the questions as I was just thinking ‘they don’t apply to our case’. I was willing them to get on, I knew something awful had happened to her.”
Eventually officers asked a frantic Hilary and Trevor to stop calling their daughter’s phone as they made attempts to trace it.
Hilary said: “At one point a police officer asked me what I thought might have happened to Hannah. He went white, he was aghast, when I said that I knew she was being held against her will or worse – but I couldn’t bring myself to say the words.
“Hannah was not some daft teenager who had not come home because of an argument.”
As the situation continued to escalate at home, Sarah was spending the weekend in the New Forest working towards her Duke of Edinburgh award.
Hilary said: “There were so many people coming and going in the house. The phone didn’t stop ringing and there were people everywhere, even in the attic.
“I just wanted to shout, to tell them they were wasting their time – she wasn’t here, but I knew they had to do it.”
Hilary’s voice trembles as she recalls: “They found Hannah on Sunday. I heard the knock and knew it was different this time. The policeman stopped to introduce himself and I was just thinking, please stop, just say what you’re here to say, get on with it.
“I had to go tearing into the Forest to get Sarah. I had to tell her. God that was hard.
Spotlight “We got home and she took one look at our home and she ran upstairs to her bedroom and refused to come out.”
Hilary added: “I go into a blur after that. Trevor was in a heap.”
While struggling to contain their grief, the couple who had never before featured in the public eye suddenly found themselves in the spotlight.
Hilary said: “Our first involvement was the press conference a couple of days later. I hate eyes on me and it was so daunting facing all those cameras.
Trevor said: “In a way I’m glad we had to do it. There was suddenly a point, it gave us as focus. It was something we knew we could do finally instead of sitting there empty and lost.”
It was a week later – ten days after the discovery of Hannah’s body – when a nationwide appeal on TV’s Crimewatch finally gave police a breakthrough.
“We were told there was good news and bad. The police now had a prime suspect but the bad news was that he had fled to India,” said Hilary.
“Perhaps we couldn’t contemplate he might never be found. People were saying that it was going to be like looking for a needle in a haystack, that he could just disappear. But as parents, we had this absolute drive – that nobody could ever get away with doing this to our daughter.”