Missing Luke: a story of hope
SINCE May 12, 2006 Britain has been on the lookout for missing teenager Luke Durbin, yet a year on, this remains a story with no end. While his face still appears on posters in London supermarkets, at home in Suffolk his desperate mum is no nearer to finding the truth.
SINCE May 12, 2006 Britain has been on the lookout for missing teenager Luke Durbin, yet a year on, this remains a story with no end.
While his face still appears on posters in London supermarkets, at home in Suffolk his desperate mum is no nearer to finding the truth. Features editor TRACEY SPARLING asks how the family is coping.
TO Nicki Durbin, hope is a poisoned emotion.
The Suffolk mum waits for news of her son Luke, tensing every time the phone rings, casting her eyes over e-mails, and watching the back door wishing he would walk right in.
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“Hope keeps me going but I'm terrified of it,” admitted Nicki.
“It's my best friend and I cling to it, but it's my worst enemy at the same time. If my hopes are raised by a suspected sighting of Luke I know they may come crashing down - and the comedown is terrible.”
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Hot tears spring to her eyes, and her earnest façade crumbles.
She steels herself to continue, but you can see it's tough to describe the darkest of days. She has no idea how eloquent her attempts sound.
For Nicki, 38, there have been many difficult days since this time last year. May 12 will be the anniversary of Luke's disappearance after a night out in Ipswich. He was last seen on CCTV in Ipswich town centre heading towards the Cattlemarket bus station.
Sunday, May 13 this year will see Nicki hosting an 'A Year and a Day' afternoon of food and live entertainment at The Riverside Theatre, Woodbridge. The event will feature bands - including Luke's and his sister Alicia's friends - and a silent auction to raise money for National Missing Persons Helpline. It will be hosted by former hostage John McCarthy - whose own family endured an agonising wait for him to return home.
Nicki said: “In February there was still a chance Luke would be home. Now the anniversary of his disappearance is nearly here.”
“The event is coming together with the help of friends and family. If it had been left to me I think I would have fallen apart.”
When she embarked on a campaign to find Luke, she didn't know what to do. She said: “I didn't want to do anything apart from wallow in my own despair but I knew doing nothing would the worst thing.
“I was thrown into this situation and there's nobody to explain the right and wrong way to find your child. The only time I'd heard about somebody going missing was Suzy Lamplugh when I was about 16, on TV, then Mandy Duncan in Woodbridge which were very different cases to Luke.”
She has found solace in speaking to other parents across the country, whose children are missing, through NMPH.
Nicki said: “We can discuss things openly, which you can't always do with friends and family because they are not always positive thoughts. They understand and don't judge you. The thought of losing a child through a tragic accident or illness had always terrified me, but that hasn't happened to us so we feel left in limbo. We can grieve for our children but we can't mourn.
“I'm surprised there is no official support network but then I assume that's because sometimes the days are so black that you don't even want to talk to friends and when those days come there's no way you could support someone else.
“For me it's been the support of strangers which has really surprised me. People have been incredibly supportive and thrown all sorts of ideas at me to keep the publicity going. I probably would have thought of doing a website eventually but a very kindhearted man in America started www.someoneismissing.com, featuring Luke without my knowledge, and I e-mailed to thank him.
“I have also had lots of cards saying 'thinking of you' and even when they're anonymous people don't realise how touching that is. They just help me get through.”
Nicki's hopes were raised when Luke's former schoolmate Lisa Blaxell thought she'd spotted him in the West End on March 2. Police are looking into this suspected sighting.
Nicki said: “I truly believe Lisa thought she saw Luke in London. I don't have a shadow of a doubt she thought it was him and the police find her far more credible because she knew Luke at school and saw him two years ago.”
Nicki travelled from home in Coronation Avenue, Hollesley, to London, and questioned the tight-knit homeless community on the streets and in hostels - but nobody had seen her son.
She admitted appearances can be also deceptive. When she studied CCTV footage of a suspected sighting in Devon, there was a moment when she thought she had found Luke.
She said: “The mannerisms looked so right that I was convinced it was Luke. It was only when the police enhanced the film I could see I was wrong. It was devastating.”
When a body was found in Northampton, Nicki endured the darkest two days wondering if it was her son. “It was 48 hours of hell,” she said with a sad shake of the head, “but it turned out not to be him.”
Some wonder if Luke left to start a new life but Nicki insisted: “I don't believe Luke ran away. I know my son, and my children are my life.
“If we'd been having arguments and screaming rows I might have understood that theory. But in my head I keep replaying that evening before he went out, searching for clues and there is nothing - everything was fantastic. That was the end of seeing him for a year.
“Somebody knows where he is. If Luke is out there and doesn't want to be found, then please ask him to just call to tell me that.”
Suffolk Police today said: “The case remains open and active with several lines of enquiry still being looked into. We would welcome any new information via 01473 613500 or Crimestoppers, anonymously if required, on 0800 555111.”
See Monday's Evening Star for news of the celebrities supporting the search for Luke Durbin.
Luke's 21st birthday is on December 4, and his younger sister Alicia turns 18 on June 1, so 2007 was set to be a big birthday year for the family.
“I would have loved to plan a big party for them both in about September time,” smiled Nicki.
“Of course they would probably have hated that idea and wanted to do their own thing. I expect Alicia will want to go clubbing in London like Luke did for his 18th.”
She added: “I do not know whether Luke is 20, or will forever be 19.
“Alicia's doing her A-levels at the moment. She's an incredible young woman. She has her bad days, and days when she feels a bit better and she continues to go out with friends.
“I have to be careful of being overprotective but she does text and phone to let me know her movements.
“She's talking about going travelling round Australia, and I will be so anxious about her. But then I have to remind myself that Luke went missing in Ipswich, he wasn't in the USA, London or Australia.”
Nicki has enlisted the support of many famous names for May 13, including former hostage John McCarthy. She said: “He is a very, very caring, compassionate man and I don't think we could have found a more appropriate person.”
Nicki may also appear on GMTV to mark the anniversary.
Film star Richard E. Grant said: “Please help support keeping the national Missing Persons Helpline funded.
“The loss of a son or daughter or loved one is unimaginably painful and a living nightmare. I sincerely hope that with your help, Nicki is rewarded one day with news about Luke.”
Former England cricket great Bob Willis said: “We so often take our family and parents for granted in our rather self-centred modern day world. Life and sport have been very kind to me, I have a wonderful 23-year-old daughter who is my pride and joy. Please spare some time thought and money to help those who have not been as fortunate as us.”
Former Scotland football manager Craig Brown said: “We have all, I suspect, experienced the sudden panic of losing a child for a few seconds, or a few minutes. Nicki has had to endure that same panic, day in, day out, since 12th May 2006, when Luke disappeared.
“There is precious little we can do to help, other than to keep their memory - and hope - alive, and to offer a helping hand by making a contribution.”
Comedian Griff Rhys Jones said: “Losing a child is dreadful, and something that Nicki Durbin has had to live with. Buy the raffle tickets, bid at the auction, please, but also make a voluntary contribution if you can.
“These events are very time consuming for people who organise them. They get a lot of rebuffs along the way. They have to put themselves out. Sometimes they can be forgiven for wondering whether all their effort has really made a difference. You can make that gesture. Don't be shy. Just do it. And, by the way, here's my hundred.”
Robert Bathurst, actor from Cold Feet, said: “People say that modern technology makes it impossible for us to get lost. We can keep in touch, instantly, from almost anywhere. The unexplained disappearance of Luke Durbin and others is disturbing and desperately painful for their families. Through NMPH they can receive support long after their case has been left on file by government agencies, providing the sustenance of hope.”
Novellist Beryl Bainbridge said: “My youngest child was 12 when she disappeared for one night. It was an act of defiance and she did make a phone call to say she was all right. But the agony of that 24 hours is something I will never forget.
“Nothing is as precious as the safety of one's children. Words cannot describe the pain of parents whose child has vanished, without explanation, from their lives.”
Comedian Roy Hudd said: “Thank you for supporting Nicki's very special event and, after you've enjoyed the music, please, please tell everyone you know about the NMPH. It really is such an essential service. There but for the Grace of . . .”
Suffolk singer Nate James said: “A thousand apologies that I can't be there but you're in my thoughts and have my 150 per cent support! What you're doing is amazing. Anything I can do to help, don't hesitate.”