Father prepares to face news of death: One of the bodies dug up at house could be missing student

(First Edition)

THE FATHER of a female student who vanished 20 years ago said yesterday it was 'distinctly possible' her body was one of those dug up in the garden of a Gloucester house.

Lucy Partington, a 21-year-old Exeter University student, was last seen on Boxing Day 1973 after leaving a friend's home in Cheltenham to catch a bus to her mother's home in nearby Gretton. Roger Partington said: 'The police aren't ruling out the possibility that one of the bodies they've found is Lucy. Unfortunately, one must regard it as distinctly possible.'

He said he had spoken to police almost daily since bodies were first discovered in Cromwell Street, Gloucester. His daughter was last seen waiting for a bus near the village of Bishop's Cleeve.

Mr Partington, 69, a retired industrial chemist and schoolteacher, said that though recent events were difficult and painful for the family, it would also be a relief if Lucy's body were found.

'We have had 20 years to imagine all sorts of possible ways in which she might have met her death,' he said. 'The grief is still there, it's something one never forgets, but uncertainty is worse than certainty in this situation.'

It was 'inconceivable' Lucy ran away and the family believed she had come to harm. 'She was a very kind, thoughtful, sympathetic person who I'm sure would not want to inflict suffering on us. She had a lot going for her, she was doing well at university, she had friends,' he said. She became a Roman Catholic shortly before vanishing and the family would like an appropriate funeral for her, he said. Her mother remarried and still lives in Gloucestershire.

Police are also re-examining the case of Mary Bastholm, a cafe waitress from Gloucester who vanished in January 1968.

Mary, 15, planned to travel by bus to spend the evening playing Monopoly with her boyfriend. The only clue to her disappearance was the discovery of Monopoly pieces near the bus stop.

May Lappin, 56, sister of the accused man's missing first wife, Catherine 'Reno' Costello, admitted she had feared the 'worst for years'.

She told Gloucestershire detectives who interviewed her at her home in Corby, Northamptonshire, that she last saw Catherine alive at a family get-together in 1968.

In 1969 she was told Catherine was leaving her husband and moving abroad.

Mrs Lappin said: 'I've been trying to contact her ever since. I've been thinking the worst for years. With the story being on the national news, we hope someone might recognise her and it might even bring her back.'

The Gloucester investigation has swamped the Missing Persons Helpline with thousands of calls from worried friends and relatives.

Chris Day, a co-founder, said: 'Many are from worried friends and families thinking their loved ones are involved. Many more know their loved ones can't be involved because they only went missing days ago but fear something similar may have happened.

'It's going to get worse. It is not knowing that causes the biggest problems. It can lead to depression. Long-term callers have been through a lot over the years. When something like this comes up in the news they need constant support.' He said extra volunteers were staffing the helpline on 081-392 2000.

RADAR DEVICE USED IN FALKLANDS

The seismic radar device used by police to detect buried bodies in the Gloucester house was originally developed to locate plastic mines after the Falklands conflict.

The device, similar to conventional navigational radar, was developed by ERA Technology of Leatherhead, Surrey. The images received on the screen show if there are hollows in the ground, or if the earth has been disturbed.

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