‘The unsolved mystery of my father’s disappearance’

Missing person'James Dowsett
Missing person'James Dowsett
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Despite a major search operation, nobody has seen James Dowsett since his disappearance almost 10 years ago.

After his disappearance on June 18, 2005, police dogs, helicopters and specialist mountain rescue teams have all searched for the grandfather, and appeals have been made by the National Missing Persons Helpline and the BBC Missing series.

Members of the Bowland Pennine Mountain Rescue team during the search at Whittingham for missing pensioner James Dowsett

Members of the Bowland Pennine Mountain Rescue team during the search at Whittingham for missing pensioner James Dowsett

Today his eldest daughter Annette Keeble, 56, has spoken for the first time about her ongoing search for answers.

“It is one of the great unsolved mysteries,” she said. “We know the facts. We know he went out for a walk. But we don’t know anything after that. We know nothing at all. How can people just disappear?

“It was devastating in the beginning. You just don’t believe the reality of the situation you’re in. I suppose for the first three or four years we had a lot of anxiety around it.

“Now we are more positive because we have a lot of fond memories of him.

“We don’t mark his birthday, we mark the day he disappeared. That’s like an anniversary.

“We know that he was out there in a place he loved, in a part of the country we loved.”

Annette added: “He would have been a great grandfather now. He would have loved my latest little granddaughter, she is just over two but she is sharp, she is very artistic. My son is quite like my dad. He looks more like him as he has matured.

“They never really leave. They are there somewhere.”

James, who had seven children, and a number of grandchildren at the time he died, originated from Essex.

He moved north and worked at the Royal Albert Hospital, in Lancaster, until he retired through ill health.

Earlier this year, the family were informed that workers demolishing the former Whittingham Hospital had been informed about James being missing and to be aware if something did come up, but nothing did.

She said: “It’s a strange feeling. We all moved on and got on with our lives. But every now and then I think ‘I will tell dad that’ then I remember I can’t. I do think ‘where did he go?’ It’s the strangest feeling.

“I have always been told I take after him. We were close, we had similar views and out looks and skills. We shared a lot of things. That’s where the lack of closure comes in. It’s something I can’t put to bed.

“I think he is dead, I thought he probably was quite early on. He was physically and medically not a well man. He didn’t have his medication.

“I often think somebody out walking will come across something. As the spring and summer comes, I think somebody will be out walking there and they will come across his bones.”

Annette recalls the last time she saw her dad: “I saw him a couple of weeks before he disappeared. The work I was doing at the time meant I was able to travel, I could see him quite regularly.

“He was okay. On my last visit he was very lucid, we talked about all sorts of things. He was quite chipper.

“That last visit, he was aware of where he was, he had enough of it really. What he was like the next day I don’t know, but at that moment in time he had enough of the whole situation, he didn’t like the confinement.”

When James went missing, his children in Lancashire were informed initially and his children in Essex found out the next day.

Annette remembers: “It just picked up momentum very quickly. I can’t praise the services, the police force, the mountain rescue people, the local farmers enough.

“My sister and I went up a couple of days later and met with the people organising the search. It’s difficult to remember it all, we were in this situation and everything was happening around us.

“When they hadn’t found him by the second night, I personally didn’t think they were going to. I suppose that just goes back to my last visit with him and his desire to want to walk away from it all.

“The weather was turning, it was getting very cold. It just didn’t seem feasible that they would.

“I have always been amazed they didn’t find anything at all.

“They have followed up lots and lots of leads.

“Somebody thought they had seen him get on the bus, somebody thought they had seen him by the river.

“A few months after, somebody came forward who had been staying in a hostel and they thought they had seen him.

Even to this day, the family liaison officer from Lancashire Police is in touch with Annette.

She said: “She is unbelievable, even after all this time.”

Annette said if they did one day find her father’s remains, it would enable the family to have some closure.

She said of her dad: “He was a great walker. He would walk up the hills and around the lakes and he was a terrific artist, I have got quite a few drawings from when I was younger.

“To some extent he was still doing the things he liked.

“He could charm the bees out of the trees. He was an intelligent person. He was a charmer. He loved talking to people, he loved listening to people about what was going on with their lives. He was very encouraging. He loved life. He liked to have a good holiday. He was smart, he was always wary of his appearance.

Annette has lost touch with her father’s children from another relationship, Emma and Mark.

She said: “That’s a regret really. We all dealt with it differently.

“People form different relationships and go off in different directions.

“We don’t realise the people we don’t keep in touch with until we talk about them.”