JAN WARD was under no illusions about the likely outcome, but when the news came through from Nairobi she still felt an acute sense of disappointment. "It has been eleven years," she said. "Maybe this really is the time to draw a line under it and call it a day. I don't know how we can go on now unless someone comes forward with information. That can always happen, of course, we can't give up hope."
The search for Julie Ward's killers had been the abiding mission for her parents, John and Jan Ward. Mr Ward has travelled all over the world, making more than 50 trips to Kenya alone. Mrs Ward has been there too, around a dozen times, she thinks, and she has seen the dark, lonely places where her daughter spent her last days alive. But with yesterday's decision at the High Court in Nairobi that search appears to have run into the sands once again. Simon Ole Makallah, a former game warden, was found not guilty of murdering Ms Ward.
"The reason we have been trying to find out what happened is because it gives Julie's life some value, all human life has value," said Mrs Ward, a slim, courteous and shy woman aged 65, who has never felt comfortable in the glare of publicity that has accompanied the case from the outset.
"Julie was very, very special to us and of course our memories of her will never fade. We still hope that there will be a call which will lead us to the truth. We do get a lot of these calls, but some of them are just recycling old rumours and bits of nonsense." These rumours have been a persistently distracting feature of the long-running inquiry, and some of them have been repeated and given as "facts" in Kenya: Julie was having an affair with the son of a prominent politician who had her killed, according to one theory; or she was silenced after witnessing smuggling in the Kenya- Tanzania border involving public figures; or she had committed suicide after a tiff with a boyfriend who was white, and the attempt to blame black rangers is merely a racist conspiracy. The list is long and frustrating for Mr and Mrs Ward. And in trying to dig their way through these tales, attempting to find out what really happened, Mr Ward came up against Kenyan investigating authorities, whose performance was a mixture of appalling incompetence and a strong desire to cover up a murder which could only cause harm the country's lucrative tourist industry.
When the first reports of Ms Ward's disappearance filtered through to her parents in September 1988 at their home in the Suffolk village of Brockley, they had little idea of what was going on except. "That was probably the worst time," Mrs Ward reflects. "I heard she was missing, a dreadful thing for any mother to hear. Fear takes hold of you, you become rigid ... you can hardly move. I kept thinking that perhaps she had had an accident while driving and was lying injured in a ditch. John had flown out to Kenya and he phoned to say they were claiming Julie had committed suicide. I remember saying `don't be silly, she would never do that'. Then John phoned and told me that she was almost certainly dead. In a way, that was a relief," she said. "I knew that at least she was not suffering terrible things somewhere. The fear went and a sort of misery set in. But you are in denial, you keep on saying to yourself this simply cannot be true." The fate of Ms Ward, whose family nickname was "Muff", was in fact horrific. While out on safari on the Masai Mara she was abducted, murdered and dismembered, and then her remains were burnt in an attempt to dispose of the evidence. Some of these remains, and ashes, were discovered by Mr Ward.
Over time, the couple, and their two sons, Tim and Robert, have come to terms with the death. "Robert said to me very early on that the words `if only' are banned," added Mrs Ward. "She was 28 years old and she had done nothing to make us worry about her. She had been portrayed in the media as a tomboy, but in fact she was very careful. What happened could have taken place anywhere, in London or Bury St Edmunds.
"But it is not easy. I often think that if I had gone out to Nairobi she would not have been on her ownand we could have come back together. In one of her last letters she asked me to go there for Christmas.
"Little things remind me of her. The scene at the end of Birds of a Feather, the shot of the home movie, makes me think of the video I took of her feeding her teddy, jumping up and down the steps of her infant school. I used to weep for a long time when I saw that."
There has been a huge amount of publicity in the Julie Ward case, some of it, Mrs Ward found, quite hurtful. "One of the Sunday papers which ran some disgusting, false sex stories about Julie," said Mrs Ward. "Both John and I were very, very hurt about that." But, at the end of the day, I think about Julie as a lovely person. That's all you can do, cling on to the happy memories."
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