Mystery of missing Saltdean teenager Owen Harding who vanished five weeks ago
Owen Harding has now been missing for five weeks.
The 16-year-old left his home in Saltdean on Thursday, March 26, to go and watch the sunset and never returned home.
His heartbroken mum, Stella, said he had expressed concern about not being able to see his girlfriend, Megs, who lives 280 miles away in Pocklington, because of the coronavirus lockdown.
“He was really upset that he couldn’t go by train to see her because of the coronavirus lockdown restrictions,” she said.
“But he didn’t say anything about going to see Meg, he just went out to watch the sunset.
“I remember getting dinner ready for my five-year-old daughter and then we went out to clap the NHS at 8pm but when he hadn’t come back then, I started to worry.
“He is normally very good and responsible and hadn’t been flouting the restrictions at all so I got really concerned and talked to friends.”
‘No indications to support’
The possibility that Owen might be walking 280 miles to see Megs prompted Sussex Police to look in to the line of enquiry – but it quickly confirmed there were no indications at all to support this or indeed that he has left Sussex – making his disappearance even more of a mystery.
It confirmed Owen’s mobile phone and bus pass have not been used since he disappeared.
On Friday, April 24, the force released images of four people who they believe may be able to help find him.
It admitted that it was ‘probably the last line of enquiry that it had’.
But Owen’s distraught mum, Stella, remains hopeful and is keeping a fire vigil going in the garden of her house in Brighton as a symbol of hope.
“I’m sitting by the fire every day and using all the resources within me to help cope with Owen not being here,” she said.
“This is so out of character for him. He had given me a really sweet Mother’s Day card and we are all desperately worried for him.”
‘They are so sweet together’
The swimming teacher spoke of her son’s relationship with girlfriend, Megs: “Owen and Meg are very close and she is a lovely girl. They are so sweet together.
“It was all confusing when we started to hear about lockdown and at first I thought I might be able to drive him up but then that became impossible so Owen felt very dispirited and upset.
“They have known each other since they were 11-years-old. Meg is sweet and kind and obviously they have big feelings for each other.
“They were on the phone a lot and would visit each other when they could.”
She continued: “They spent most of last summer together one way or another, visiting each other’s houses and going on camping trips.
“It’s obviously quite a strong relationship and they can be themselves with each other, which is nice.
“You can imagine how disappointed and worried they both were by what was happening.
“Owen was up and down. We were going on walks with our pet lurcher, Suki, and he was very sweet on Mother’s Day, giving me a nice card but tension was there because he kept on talking about going to Meg and I said he couldn’t because of coronavirus.”
Owen was in his first year of sixth form at Varndean College in Brighton after achieving seven GCSEs from The Brighton Waldorf School.
He played football for the local team Woodingdean Wanderers, travelling to tournaments and winning a local cup final.
He was a strong swimmer, keen scuba diver, and had qualified as a lifeguard.
He was looking at swimming teacher courses and wanted to learn to drive to get skills that would help go travelling in Australia when he left school.
‘Emotions still there’
Owen’s father Petar died, aged 45, in November 2018, and the family and friends held a memorial ceremony in Goa, India, which was his favourite place.
“He was a lovely, generous man but was not a big part of our lives,” said Stella.
“Owen saw him occasionally and he was able to express his feelings after his death and I was proud of him for doing that.
“We spoke about it but there were probably emotions that were still there and the death of his dad may have affected him more than he realised even though they didn’t have a particularly strong relationship. We don’t know how much that was preying on his mind.”
‘Owen is amazing’
She continued: “I keep going over things and it has been terrible not knowing what has happened. He could be on his way to Meg’s. I’m trying not to speculate but I’m remaining positive and holding him close to my heart.
“Meg and her family are distraught. We all are, but we are keeping hope going. We’ve had such great support from friends and family who have rallied round, put up posters and are doing everything they can for Owen.
“It’s like I have all their hands on my shoulders and that is a big help. Owen and I know how much we love each other so we don’t really need to say it.
“He is a wonderful young man and I get great feedback from people he meets about how solid and grounded he is.
“Owen is amazing and I want him to know that so many people think that about him.”
Support from celebrities
The search for Owen has been publicly backed by Loose Women’s Nadia Sawalha, whose daughter is friends with the teenager.
TV and radio presenter Zoe Ball, who lives in Mid Sussex, also posted a picture of Owen on her Instagram, urging people who may have information on his whereabouts to get in touch with the police.
The local community has also rallied to help find Owen – with Facebook pages set up by friends.