Owen Harding, 16 years old, left his home in Saltdean, East Sussex, at around 6:00pm on the 26th March, 2020.
He left his home, which he shared with his mother, Stella, and five-year old sister, after having an argument about wanting to spend the Coronavirus lockdown with his girlfriend, Meg, who lived in York. Owen had even joked to friends about making the journey up to York, but Owen’s mum was adamant that he was not allowed to spend lockdown with Meg.
Stella, Owen’s mum, said: “It was like this ongoing discussion all week. That was really, really tricky between us.”
On the night of the 26th March, 2020, Owen and his mum argued again over Owen wanting to stay with Meg during lockdown. After arguing, Owen left the house without saying anything, and CCTV images show Owen walking towards Bannings Vale in Saltdean, towards a cliff top, at 6:13pm.
He made a phone call to his girlfriend Meg. Meg explained that he told her he had an argument with his mum, and Meg said she had also fallen out with her mum over the same issue. The pair talked for a bit, but then Owen said he was going to watch the sunset. This was the last time anyone has spoken to Owen.
Owen’s phone disconnected from the phone tower at 6:23pm.
Meg did try to call Owen back at 6:32pm, but it went straight to voicemail.
At first, mum Stella thought Owen had just gone for a walk to clear his head after the argument. Once it had reached 11pm, and there was no sign of Owen, Stella called the police.
Meg and her parents came down to Saltdean the next day to help search for Owen alongside Stella, checking along the coastline and abandoned farmhouses calling Owen’s name.
The police launched a huge search operation, and around 80 officers went door to door at homes and businesses close to Owen’s home.
However, the lockdown restrictions made the search more difficult as people didn’t answer their doors, and shops who could have provided CCTV footage were not open.
But, police were able to give residents who owned private CCTV and security cameras memory sticks. These were left outside and collected by police later on.
A social media operation took place, and a website and Facebook pages were made to share the appeal. BBC Radio 2 presenter Zoe Ball, along with YouTube sensation Pewdiepie, also used their social media to share images and appeals to help find Owen.
Simon Watson, a retired Metropolitan police sergeant who trained in search techniques, helped to organise a methodical search. Groups of 10 – 20 people searched the cliff-top area in Telscombe Tye and the countryside behind the houses in Saltdean. Watson said: “I know from experience you can have hunches. But it’s quite tricky, this one, because of the real lack of information.”
Despite of the large effort made to find Owen, no trace of him has ever been found. The investigation is still open and ongoing, and because it is quite recent, we will hopefully get some sort of answer as to what happened to Owen.
Police did enlist the help of an oceanographer, Dr Simon Boxall, who said that at the time of Owen’s disappearance the conditions of the sea would have carried a body out to sea, rather than carrying it east or west towards the seafront. Investigators have alerted police in mainland Europe.
Owen’s mum, Stella, and his girlfriend Meg, were prepared from the start that there could have been a tragedy on the cliffs. “I think we’ve all been prepared for that since the moment he went missing.” said Stella.
If you have any information regarding Owen’s disappearance, or if you have seen Owen, please contact the East Sussex police or call 101.
True crime, missing, unsolved, children, UK