Wood searched for missing mother

Thurrock Gazette: Nicola Payne went missing in 1991. Nicola Payne went missing in 1991.

Detectives trying to solve the mystery of a young mother who went missing without trace in 1991 have specialist search teams combing an area of woodland near a river.

Officers investigating the disappearance of Nicola Payne have today started searching a small patch of ground on a nature reserve near the River Sowe in Coventry, West Midlands Police said.

The search comes two months after detectives arrested two 49-year-old men on suspicion of the abduction and murder of the 18-year-old after she went missing while on a five-minute walk to her parents' house.

Both men have since been bailed, along with a 51-year-old woman arrested on suspicion of perverting the course of justice, while inquiries continue.

Despite police efforts and repeated public appeals by both her parents and son Owen down the years, no trace of Ms Payne has ever been been found.

The current search activity on the land off Dunrose Close - which is two miles from where the young mother was last seen alive - comes just two months after detectives on the case announced their hopes of a forensic "breakthrough", with the arrests following days later at the end of 2013.

West Midlands Police said its officers were today carrying out a preliminary search within a cordoned off area and were seen using equipment including metal detectors to comb the ground.

Detective inspector Martin Slevin, who is leading the inquiry into Ms Payne's disappearance, said: "The area of land being looked at is as a result of ongoing inquiries into the disappearance of Nicola in December 1991.

"At this stage it is a preliminary search of an area of interest to us."

He added Ms Payne's family were aware of the search.

It is more than 22 years since Ms Payne left her seven-month-old son with her boyfriend to make the short journey across a patch of waste ground from his home in Winston Avenue to her parents' in Woodway Close in the Wood Hill area of Coventry on December 14, 1991.

Last year, detectives announced they had gone back over all of the original evidence and had sent away a number of samples for detailed forensic analysis with modern techniques including, among others, scrutiny by a DNA specialist and an expert in pollen and fine particles.

Mr Slevin, speaking at the time, described the move as an exciting development.

He added: "We will not give up exploring every opportunity to solve this case."

In 2012, to mark the 21st anniversary of Ms Payne's disappearance, police re-appealed for information on two men who were spotted near where she was last seen, and who have never been traced.

A £10,000 reward for information leading to the whereabouts of Ms Payne remains in place.

Anyone with information about her disappearance should contact Coventry Police on 101 or call Crimestoppers confidentially on 0800 555111.

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