Exclusive: record 82 families face heartbreak of lost loved ones
Missing: March 7 2009
Age when reported missing: 36
Carrickfergus man Mark
Gourley went to a Co-op store in the town
one morning and never returned. From the
Castlemara Estate, he has not been in
contact with friends or family since and is
considered to be police as vulnerable. Mr
Gurley's distressed mother Beryl made an
appeal for information on his whereabouts.
She described him as ?very friendly, from a
close family, very fond of his girlfriend,
and who loves his wee dog?.
State-of-the-art drones are to be deployed for the first time in a
missing person search in Northern Ireland later this
The unmanned mini-planes are operated by the Sky Watch charity
which joined forces with the PSNI on July 24 —
coincidentally the same day 24-year-old Dean Patton from
At least one of the drones — and possibly a light aircraft — will
scour the coastline of the Co Antrim town on Friday
providing high definition images as investigators search
for clues regarding Dean’s whereabouts.
The day will mark one month since Dean was last seen by friends and
family. He has had no contact with anyone since.
The Belfast Telegraph has learned his disappearance is just one of
82 missing person cases currently on PSNI files.
Each file symbolises a family dealing with grief, anguish and
confusion when a loved one walks out the door and simply
Dean’s uncle Gerry said his parents John and Linda are “devastated”
by their nightmare situation and hailed the help offered
by Sky Watch in trying to track him down.
The input of the charity to the search operation came about by
Sky Watch’s Paul Trimble was staying in Portrush with his family
over the weekend.
He was aware of the hunt for Dean having followed the case in the
Paul discovered Gerry was staying just yards away in a caravan site
in the town and went to meet him and offer the charity’s
Sky Watch has been operating elsewhere in the UK for 10 years and
recently joined forces with the police and fire service
in Northern Ireland.
Pilots and aircrew give their time and aircraft free of charge,
keeping running costs low.
The charity’s plane was used in the search for Joby Murphy and Sam
Campbell earlier this year but Friday will mark the
first time drones have been used.
Paul told the Belfast Telegraph: “We have a full size aircraft and
a number of drones we deploy.
“I brought Sky Watch here about two years ago and it has taken that
time to get it fully established.
“The drones are totally different to military drones.
“I developed these myself. They are basically high-end model
airplanes with auto-pilot and high-definition cameras.
They are fully approved by the Civil Aviation Authority.
“Our drones are thousands of pounds, the military ones are hundreds
of thousands of pounds.
“We can fly 24/7 in almost all weather except dense fog.
“So, when the police air support unit is grounded due to low cloud,
we can fly.
“That’s where the benefit is.”
Over 300,000 people were reported missing to police in the UK last
The vast majority turn up safe. But some families are left in the
horrendous situation of never finding out why their
loved-one suddenly disappeared from their lives, or even
if they are still alive.
The reason behind each disappearance can vary widely — the teenage
girl thought to have been abducted and murdered, a
much-loved father who went for a cycle and simply didn’t
come home, a man known to be suicidal — but the
devastation for each family involved is the same.
Among those on the list are Samuel Campbell who never returned to
his Kells home after a bike ride, Martin Kelly from
Holywood who was last seen during a night out in
Belfast, and John O’Hara from Limavady who has been
missing for over 18 years.
Missing People is a charity
dedicated to helping families track down disappeared
relatives and includes among its ambassadors Kate
McCann, mother of Madeleine.
According to the charity, two-thirds of people who go missing are
below the age of 18.
These tend to be females while more males over 18 go missing.
Those aged between 24 and 30 are reported missing more frequently
than any other group.
Cases reported to the charity tend to be those open for more than
48 hours, by which time the majority of police cases
have been resolved. The charity notes a range of impacts
on families including emotional, social and financial
strains. Missing People says the situation families find
themselves in is unique, describing their experience as
an ‘ambiguous loss’. Lack of information means closure
is difficult to achieve for many.
“The lack of information or ‘closure’ available to families means
they experience the loss in a different way than, for
example, a bereavement,” says the charity.
“The loss is not verified. The natural human need for meaning,
sense, security, knowledge, finality and rituals are
denied to the family.”
A study called Lost From View identified the breakdown of a
relationship, followed by conflicts as chief reasons for
people going missing.
Living nightmare of relatives who refuse to give up hope
Reeling from the sudden disappearance of her son, Linda Patton was
at home one Monday evening when she heard the front door
open and the sound of a familiar voice speak.
Her eyes lit up and she ran into the hallway expecting to see her
eldest child standing there.
The euphoria instantly turned to despair when she realised it
wasn’t her beloved son Dean — missing for over a month —
but a different relative.
The living nightmare for the Portrush woman and her husband John
Gerry Patton, Dean’s uncle, said the 24-year-old’s parents are
going through torture.
“I walked in the other night to see them and Linda thought it was
Dean home again,” he told the Belfast Telegraph.
“They have no clue as to where Dean is or what has happened.”
Dean’s parents describe him as a “vulnerable” adult who has
suffered mental health problems for the last seven
His parents are concerned that he does not have access to his
A week before his disappear
ance, Dean moved from the family home to supported living
accommodation in Portrush and was said to be enjoying
his new independence.
Another family also living with the trauma of a missing loved one
is that of Arlene Arkinson.
The Co Tyrone girl’s sister Kathleen said she thinks about her
“every second of every day”.
Arlene has been missing, presumed murdered, since August 1994. The
15-year-old disappeared after going to a disco in Co
Donegal and was last seen getting into a blue Mini Metro
with a man.
“You can never lose hope. You think about it every second of your
life, every time you open your eyes. People say it gets
easier as you get older, it doesn’t get easier it gets
harder. It’s very, very hard,” said Kathleen.
Kate McCann: It’s tough but you just have to go on
No-one understands the anguish of a missing loved one more than
the parents of Madeleine McCann who went missing while
on holiday in Portugal more than five years ago.
The little girl was aged three when she was taken from her bed in
a holiday apartment in the resort of Praia de Luz.
Her parents Kate and Gerry McCann have endured years of
unimaginable distress as they try to establish what
happened to their daughter.
Speaking in her capacity as an ambassador with the campaign
Missing People, Kate McCann spoke of her hope to help
other families in the same position.
“As the search for Madeleine goes on, I want to look at the wider
picture and see what I can to do to help,” she said.
“Before Madeleine went missing I was horrifyingly ignorant about
it myself. It really is much bigger than people realise.
I know that we have been ‘lucky’ in one way because we
received such huge publicity when Madeleine went
“We continue to and that really helps our search for her. But
many families haven't had that. They haven't had their
missing loved one's face put out there.
“It's been very tough, but you just have to get through it.
Birthdays, anniversaries, Christmas — they don't get any