Moors murder victim's mother Winnie Johnson is buried

 

At peace at last, Winnie Johnson, the mother of Moors murder victim Keith Bennett, was buried today after a moving funeral service.

Tormented to the last after a lifetime of campaigning, the 78-year-old died without fulfilling her cherished wish to find her son's makeshift grave on Saddleworth Moor and give him a proper Christian burial.

Ian Brady and Myra Hindley abducted and murdered the 12-year-old in 1964, the only one of the five young victims whose body has never been found.

At today's service at St Chrysostom's Church, in Victoria Park, Manchester, where Mrs Johnson, a widow, was a regular parishioner and Keith attended Sunday school, the names of her son's killers were never uttered once.

Instead her family, friends and ordinary members of the public among the mourners heard tributes to a courageous mother who battled on despite a life touched by tragedy.

A former cleaner and worker in hospital kitchens, her desire to know became ever more desperate after she was diagnosed with the cancer that was to finally take her life on August 18.

Canon Ian Gomersall, rector of St Chrysostom's, told mourners she lived all her life in Manchester, where her son was abducted.

"I will not go into the detail of this, nor will I name here the perpetrators of that evil," he said.

"What I will do is pay tribute to this remarkable woman. I know my words of tribute will be shared by so many people.

"I pay tribute to Winnie's courage and determination to bring her son back to her family.

"I pay tribute to Winnie and her family's resolve to give Keith a final resting place, which has been an inspiration to so many over the years, and we thank God for this encouraging example."

Canon Gomersall said Mrs Johnson had shown "that we, everyday people, can have courage, strength, hope and determination, whatever assails us".

And while she was a woman of sorrow, she was also someone who "even in the midst of her grief", could find hope and joy, and showed that love, faith, hope and courage would prevail over darkness.

Mrs Johnson was a humble woman of modest background and means, forced to live in the public eye for almost 50 years.

The search for Keith brought an ordinary, working-class woman with a strong sense of humour in touch with the corridors of power, dealing with a succession of home secretaries.

While Brady and Hindley took her son, they could not take her dignity or her pride, which never failed and for many she became a symbol of courage and decency.

She was a "practical, forthright and even formidable woman" and a "straight speaker", the funeral heard.

Elizabeth Bond, a family friend, told mourners: "I have been in all sorts of places with Winnie while she played her public role and she never stood on ceremony for anyone.

"She stood fast against all that life could throw at her and kept a sense of humour along the way.

"She lived by her values - to do what we believe is right even in the hardest time; to not let ourselves be beaten and always call it how it is."

Prayers were said for Mrs Johnson and mourners sang her favourite hymns, Lord Of All Hopefulness, The Lord's My Shepherd and The Old Rugged Cross.

Grandson Stephen Prescott told mourners his grandmother was the centre of the family and, though she had a life of "struggle and hardship", she was an "unabashed character" who always had a smile on her face and was a "shining example" to all.

Before the service began, the coffin arrived in the hearse surrounded by floral tributes, one incorporating a photo of Mrs Johnson.

Other floral tributes spelled out "Gran" and "Mam" and there were wreaths from her local Gala Bingo club, one of Mrs Johnson's favourite pastimes, and another from Greater Manchester Police.

Keith was last seen by his mother early on evening of June 16 1964 after he left home in Eston Street, Longsight, Manchester, on his way to his grandmother's house nearby.

The other victims of Brady and Hindley, who were jailed for life in 1966, were Pauline Reade, 16, who disappeared on her way to a disco on July 12 1963; John Kilbride, 12, who was snatched in November the same year; Lesley Ann Downey, 10, who was lured away from a funfair on Boxing Day 1964, and Edward Evans, 17, who was axed to death in October 1965.

One poignant bouquet was left by the Kilbride family outside the church.

A message from them read: "To a lady of courage and endurance in her lifelong valiant fight for inner peace and justice, now enfolding Keith in your arms for ever more. Carried in our hearts and thoughts always."

Despite countless letters to Brady begging for help, he continues to hold back the one detail that could have given Mrs Johnson some semblance of peace.

It has been suggested it is the hallmark of a psychopath exercising what little manipulative power he had left over a sick, grieving woman.

In July 2009 after a final mammoth effort, with officers even using US spy satellite technology, Greater Manchester Police declared that the search for Keith's remains was over barring significant new evidence or a major scientific breakthrough.

Detectives say there is only one person who knows where Keith is - the man who buried him.

Hindley died in jail in 2002 aged 60.

Brady, 74, is currently held in Ashworth Hospital, a high- security mental health unit on Merseyside.

The last time he was approached by police for help he turned away and dismissed them with a wave of his hand.

PA

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