Christmas Charity Appeal banner 2017
Only once in the six years that Matthew was missing did I fear the worst. A friend texted saying she was thinking of me, ‘after what the police have found’. I turned on the news: a body had been discovered near where we live in Kent. My heart nearly stopped when they estimated he’d been dead four years, exactly as long as Matthew had been gone.
I called a reporter who, thankfully, confirmed it wasn’t him. Somehow I knew he was alive, and that my husband Jim and I would find him.
Matt was a lovely child. He was into football, a popular lad. But at 24, out of the blue, he had a psychotic episode and ended up being sectioned.
After a stay in hospital, he seemed better. He went back to work as a roofer. Then one Friday in 2010 he went to see a friend in London. I remember saying, ‘Have a good weekend, don’t forget work on Monday. Love you.’ And that was that.
When he didn’t come home on Sunday we were concerned but assumed he’d had one too many beers. We left him a message and on Monday I went to my job at the prison service and Jim to his as a firefighter. By Wednesday I said to Jim, ‘I know it sounds silly but I’m going to report him missing.’
The relief at finding him alive was indescribable. But it was the start of a new journey…
The police searched his bedroom and found his phone – the one we’d been messaging. His driving licence, passport and birth certificate were missing, plus £1,700 in cash that we thought was to fix his car.
His friends hadn’t seen him, and one created a Facebook group seeking information; within hours it had 900 members.
We’d look at it night and day and follow up every lead. We’d go anywhere he’d been spotted. The search dominated our lives.
I don’t know what we’d have done without the Missing People charity. They supported us and helped keep Matt in the public eye, putting photos of him on billboards and in The Big Issue.
Telegraph Christmas Appeal 2017 | What are the charities?
Days turned into years. But we never lost hope. Each Christmas, I put presents for him under the tree. And we left his room exactly as it was when he left.
Then, in May of last year, the police told us Matt might have been found. He’d been picked up by police in Spain, after behaving oddly.
After an agonising two-week wait while police confirmed it was him, we learnt he was in a secure unit in a Madrid hospital. The flight was one of the worst journeys of our lives: the anticipation was unbearable.
Our reunion wasn’t the joyful one we’d imagined: he didn’t want to see us. When he eventually agreed, we were shocked – he was emaciated with long hair and a beard. After 10 minutes, he wanted us to leave.
The relief at finding him alive was indescribable. But it was the start of a new journey, which is in some ways harder.
It took us three weeks to get him back to the UK. At another secure unit he was diagnosed with schizophrenia, and stabilised with medication. A year ago he moved to respite care. We see him weekly and there’s such an improvement in his appearance and well-being. I know he’s progressed, as I get a cuddle from him now when I see him. The first time that happened, I was a blubbering wreck. He’ll never be 100 per cent and I have to accept the man he’s become, but we count our blessings. He’s alive and well and I know exactly where he is.
Matthew won’t be with us on Christmas Day – he prefers Boxing Day, as there are fewer people, but we’ll be making the most of it. Given that the Christmas before last we didn’t know if he was alive or dead, this is 100 per cent better.
As told to: Victoria Young
To donate to Missing People or any of the Telegraph’s Christmas charities, call 0151 284 1927 or visit telegraph.co.uk/charity