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WHERE IS SHE?; Twelve years ago, Nicola Payne vanished on a six-minute walk to her parents' home ... now they say they will name her murderer.

Byline: TOM WELLS

A DESPERATE couple whose teenage daughter went missing 12 years ago are to sensationally name the man they believe to be her murderer.

Young mum Nicola Payne, 18, disappeared in December 1991 after leaving her Midland home to visit her parents.

Despite a huge police investigation and nationwide appeals she has never been found.

Parents John and Marilyn Payne have lived in torment since she vanished - and have always believed that she was murdered.

Now, in a desperate attempt to re-awaken the case, they plan to use the internet to name the man they suspect of killing their daughter - and say they are prepared to fight any resulting defamation action to finally uncover the truth.

John, speaking exclusively to the Sunday Mercury, said: 'I do not care what happens to me now. I just want to find out what happened to my daughter.'

Nicola, who had a seven month-old son named Owen, vanished on a foggy Saturday morning around Christmas 1991.

She had left boyfriend Jason Cooke's house in Henley Green, Coventry, to walk to her parent's home in nearby Walsgrave - but never arrived.

The walk, across a stretch of wasteland known locally as the Black Pad, should have taken just six minutes. When she failed to appear, lorry driver John raised the alarm.

West Midlands Police launched a huge search operation using sniffer dogs, helicopters and heat-seeking equipment but Nicola was never found.

Regular public appeals for information about her whereabouts have been made ever since.

Rock band Soul Asylum even used a photo of Nicola in their video for 1993 hit Runaway Train - a song written to raise awareness about missing teenagers.

But there have been no confirmed sightings and John and Marilyn are today more convinced than ever that Nicola was murdered.

The heartbroken couple have now set up a website - www.nicola-payne.co.uk - to give publicity to the case.

It includes family photos of Nicola, a detailed map of her last known route and information on the pounds 10,000 reward on offer.

John and Marilyn plan to add a new page to the website, dramatically lifting the lid on the suspected killer's identity. John, 57, said: 'I have been warned by several friends that we could be taken to court by the man we name but I am happy to take that chance.

'I do not care anymore. If we are sued and taken to court, then that man will have to give evidence and there may be a breakthrough.

'I am going to sit down over the next week or so and write down exactly who we believe murdered Nickie and then put it onto the internet.'

Marilyn is backing her husband's decision. 'People say time is a great healer,' she said. 'But with Nickie, the heartache gets worse with every year.

'The police have told us that the investigation remains open but really I think it is no longer a top priority for them.

'Naming the man we think murdered her might be dangerous - but John and I think it is worth the risk.'

The couple say that they have been driven to the decision by the lack of new information coming forward.

Over the last 12 years a number of potential leads have turned into false alarms, leaving the family in emotional turmoil.

Witnesses walking their dogs across the Black Pad on the morning Nicola vanished had reported seeing two men acting suspiciously in neighbouring woodland.

But although several suspects have been questioned, nobody has ever been charged.

Police openly admit that they are no nearer solving the case despite establishing a specialist review of unsolved cases last year.

'The officers who were leading the original investigation have either left the force or are now retired,' added John. 'We have not got the contacts we once had with West Midlands Police.

'Marilyn and I believe Nickie was murdered and we have strong suspicions as to who the killer is.

'I work as an HGV driver and sometimes you can be on the road for 28 hours in total silence.

'Little things trigger memories of Nickie and I find myself having to stop thinking about her too much.

'I remember once driving through one of the busiest roads in Southampton city centre and seeing a group of girls walking along.

'One of them was the spitting image of Nickie and I just had to stop the lorry until she went away. The traffic was building up behind me but I couldn't move at all.

'No matter how hard I try, Nickie will always be in my mind.'

Marilyn described how grandson Owen - now 11 -constantly asks about the mother he cannot remember.

'Owen lives with Jason and his fiance Karen,' she said, 'But he comes round every weekend and always asks me about his mum because he is desperate to know what she was like.

'He is really keen on football and supports Manchester United and Coventry, too. Half of his bedroom is covered in United posters and the other half is Coventry.

'He is a lovely boy and Nickie would be so proud of him.'

John admits that naming the man is a risky move and concedes it may be a last throw of the dice.

'If we could find Nickie or her body it would be a relief,' he said. 'Even if it turns out be the worst, at least we would be able to put her to rest.

'Just being able to do that would mean we could at last put our own minds to rest, too. That would mean everything to us.'

The Sunday Mercury knows the identity of the man the couple will name but cannot publish it because of legal restrictions.

But we can confirm that it is not Nicola's boyfriend at the time, Jason Cooke.

Last night West Midlands Police issued a statement which read: 'If new information is passed to police, we will look into it.'

CAPTION(S):

LAST PICTURE ... Nicola Payne with her seven month-old son, Owen, weeks before she vanished. Now mum and dad John and Marilyn believe she was killed ... and will name her murderer MISSING MOTHER ... bridesmaid Nicola Payne shortly before she disappeared 12 years ago and (below) the path she took on the night she was last seen
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Publication:Sunday Mercury (Birmingham, England)
Date:Mar 16, 2003
Words:1052
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