Page last updated at 13:50 GMT, Wednesday, 11 June 2008 14:50 UK

Family's 17-year hunt for Nicola

Police searching for young mother Nicola Payne are digging up a garden in Coventry. It is the latest development in a 17-year battle to solve the mystery of her disappearance.

Nicola Payne
Nicola Payne's parents' home was half a mile away

Ms Payne, 18, left her boyfriend's home in the city in the run-up to Christmas in 1991 and took a short cut to her parents' house.

Her father John has said the walk should only have taken about six minutes.

But Ms Payne never arrived and has not been seen since. She had never gone missing before.

Police have said: "She was in a steady relationship, had a seven-month-old child on whom she doted and was making plans for the future."

That young son, who is now a teenager, appealed for information last year in one of a number of public appeals made by the family since 1991.

Nationwide appeal

It was a foggy day 11 days before Christmas in 1991 when the mother left boyfriend Jason Cooke's home in Henley Green.

Her parents' house was half a mile away in the same area and Ms Payne took a short cut through fields in Henley Green.

The couple had been living between Mr Cooke's address and her parents' home with Owen, while they worked on a home they planned to move into.

John and Maz Payne
John Payne appealed for help to give the family peace of mind

A nationwide appeal began following Ms Payne's disappearance.

A social club, friends and the family of the teenager raised 10,000 as a reward to anyone with information about what happened to her.

Twelve years after her disappearance, the family spoke of their frustration about the lack of progress in the search.

Her mother Marilyn said: "I've gone through the whole grieving process. I just need a body to lay to rest."

In December 2005 the case was featured in the BBC series Missing, which aimed to reunite missing people with their families in time for Christmas.

Producers created an image of what Nicola would look like 14 years after her disappearance.

'No memories'

In August 2007 her son Owen, at the age of 16, renewed the family's appeal, saying: "During my early years at school I wished that my mum could meet me at the school gates after school as other mums did with my friends."

In a statement read out at a news conference, Owen said his father and all the family were always loving and caring, "but it wasn't the same" as having a mother.

"Sadly I have no memories of her and I envy my older cousins who remember her well, and they tell me what a fun loving girl she was," he said.

Ms Payne's father said at the news conference the family did not believe Nicola was still alive, but they would never give up hope that one day she would be found.

"Please help to give us peace of mind," he added.

A man was arrested last year in connection with her disappearance and released on bail.

No-one has ever been charged by police in connection with the case.

Garden dug in missing mother case
11 Jun 08 |  Coventry/Warwickshire
Man quizzed over missing Nicola
01 Nov 07 |  Coventry/Warwickshire
Boy appeals over missing mother
30 Aug 07 |  Coventry/Warwickshire
New plea in missing mother case
11 Dec 05 |  Coventry/Warwickshire

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Biggleswade Chronicle Garden dig in hunt for missing woman - 2 hrs ago
Birmingham Evening Mail Garden dig in hunt for missing teenager Nicola Payne - 16 hrs ago
Channel 4 News Police dig in search for woman - 16 hrs ago
Birmingham Post New police excavation in Nicola Payne hunt - 17 hrs ago

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