Page last updated at 15:18 GMT, Thursday, 12 June 2008 16:18 UK

Community's 17-year mystery remains

By Andrew Dawkins
BBC News, Coventry

Nicola Payne and her son Owen
Nicola Payne disappeared 11 days before Christmas
It was in thick fog 11 days before Christmas in 1991 when young mother Nicola Payne was last seen alive.

And 17 years later a community in Coventry is still waiting for answers as one of the greatest criminal mysteries in the Midlands continues.

Police searching for the mother-of-one have been digging up a garden in Winston Avenue, near where she went missing in Henley Green.

But they have now said nothing has been found in the dig at the back of the pebbledash semi-detached house.

Speaking just a few doors away on the quiet street, an elderly man outside his home remembered being one of the last people to see Ms Payne alive.

Lionel Clarke, who has lived there for half a century, recalled "dense fog" as the mother-of-one walked past.

'Wild' gossip

When she disappeared Ms Payne was walking through a grassy area known as the Black Pad, near the garden which was searched this week.

She was going from the family home of her partner on Winston Avenue to her parents' house in nearby Woodway Close, but never arrived.

Mr Clarke remembered: "We (him and his wife) were going to York. As we pulled out our car, she (Ms Payne) was walking down.

"We turned around and she's walking across that path - the Black Pad.

Lionel Clarke
Mr Clarke said police were all over the field after her disappearance

"When we came back from York, all the police were all over the field (with) helicopters up there searching for her."

A family with young sons lived at the home where this week's search took place during the time Ms Payne disappeared, Mr Clarke added.

Nearly two decades later, the overriding emotion in the community is one of sympathy for the Payne family, with some speaking of their hope that the family will find some "closure".

The young woman's own mother, Maz, has used mediums and clairvoyants to try to find out what happened.

'Just rumours'

Another woman with links to the family, Karen Murdoch, 42, remembered an extensive search at the time.

She said: "The boyfriend (Ms Payne's partner Jason Cooke) and my brother were best friends, so we were all out looking.

"There were loads - everybody in the area was down there looking."

Postman Ian Mcaleaney, 48, who has lived in the area all his life, said his late mother was good friends with Ms Payne's mother, as they used to go to bingo together.

Field opposite home which was searched
A field is on the other side of the road from the home which was searched
The postman said gossip had run "wild", adding: "Yesterday (Wednesday) everybody was talking about it - one rumour after another.

"I think today (Thursday) people are starting to realise that that's all it is at the moment - just rumours.

"Across the community the big thing you hear is that everyone hopes they do find her for her mother's sake, because that would be the one thing that would lay it to rest."

Waiting at a nearby bus stop, Ann Baker, 68, who has lived in the area for 25 years, echoed those thoughts.

She said Ms Payne was well known to a lot of people, adding: "I think something should have happened a long time ago.

"Seventeen years is a long time for a mother and father to wait and I think it's very sad."

A 37-year-old man was arrested in November on suspicion of abducting and murdering Ms Payne, but was later released without charge.

Police find nothing in garden dig
12 Jun 08 |  Coventry/Warwickshire
Garden dug in missing mother case
11 Jun 08 |  Coventry/Warwickshire
Family's 17-year hunt for Nicola
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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