Kevin Gosden has endured every parent’s worst nightmare following the disappearance of his teenage son. He tells Madeline Goodwin why he hasn’t given up hope.
“The best I feel is a day in which I do not wish I were dead.” After his 14-year-old son Andrew Gosden walked out of the family home in Doncaster one September morning in 2007, his father Kevin and the rest of his family have been living a nightmare.
Packing a bag and withdrawing £200 from his savings, Andrew was last seen stepping out of Kings Cross railway station that same day after catching the train to London from Doncaster.
It was a start of a lasting nightmare for Andrew’s family, who still don’t know what happened to their son.
Now 52 years old, Kevin has been given hope of finding Andrew, whose 25th birthday was last week, by a recent lead that has suggested he could be living and working in Lincoln.
A stranger approached Kevin with the news that he may have spoken with Andrew online, when the now missing adult asked for some money in a chat-room forum.
“It prompted the stranger’s mind. He thought ‘hang on, I’ve just spoken to somebody who left home at 14 because they just felt like it and doesn’t have a bank account now,” Kevin says.
“He’s trying to be off the grid. It is giving us a bit of hope but, of course, it might not have been our Andrew.
“It is hard to be conclusive, but we are trying to now create some additional awareness and encourage people to keep an eye open.”
Volunteers distributed 5,000 leaflets around Lincoln earlier this year and Kevin was provided with a number of potential sightings, but none have yet proved positive.
Kevin says the police officer now managing the case for South Yorkshire Police, Detective Sergeant Andy Knowles, is “excellent” but his relationship with the force over the past 11 years has been an extremely difficult one.
When Andrew first went missing, Kevin was suspected of being a prime suspect in his son’s disappearance.
He says both the police’s flawed handling of the investigation – taking almost four weeks to get hold of the CCTV footage from Kings Cross and failing to uncover any other footage despite the extensive number of cameras on nearby buildings and public transport in London – combined with their treatment of him resulted in him attempting suicide.
“My world crashed into a spiral of depression and fear,” he says. “I experienced suicidal thoughts, occasionally self-harm, extreme anxiety, nightmares, flashbacks, difficulty motivating myself to eat; the list goes on.”
He says the way in which he was questioned was a direct factor in his attempted suicide.
“My wife and I were both frightened following this as they made it clear we were suspected of something,” he says.
“Because I am male, they were more heavy-handed with me. They proceeded with extremely stressful interviews, in which I was subjected to the ‘good cop, bad cop’ routine for some hours.
“I was accused of every kind of neglect and abuse, including murder.”
After one interview, he attempted suicide and only narrowly survived after being found by a friend and rushed to A&E. He spent 15 weeks in an acute psychiatric hospital.
“I cannot begin to describe the depths of misery that this involved. No amount of therapy helped because the situation was unresolvable.”
In parallel to his treatment by officers, Kevin says he believes the investigation into his son’s disappearance was deeply flawed.
“Initially, there were significant failures to think logically, follow any logical procedure and errors in searching were made.”
He says officers assigned to the case failed to retrieve the vital CCTV footage of Andrew leaving Kings Cross station until more than three weeks after he was reported missing. This evidence may have been far more effective if sourced earlier, Kevin believes.
“I thought they had pressured me enough and had given up trying to prove the impossible. But they came to see me and told me they wanted to interview me under caution,” he recalled.
“The assumption that we were suspected of something led them to waste time with us and shelve actually searching for Andrew.”
As such, despite the new information that has come to light, the case remains a mystery.
“We were, and still are, completely baffled about why or where Andrew might have gone,” Kevin says.
“Ten years on, fear and anxiety related to what may have happened to him are present and a keen sense of loss is intermingled with good memories and hope that he may still be alive.
“All of these things come and go during a day. There are periods during which I feel hopeful and periods of utter despair.
“I do not think I have been happy for ten years, aside from very brief moments.”
Kevin has made repeated complaints about the way in which the case has been handled and says he is not interested in disciplinary proceedings against officers but instead wants to make sure lessons are learned so that no other family is treated in the way the Gosdens have been.
“There remain a number of aspects which have not been addressed, and I continue to write to them in the hope that others do not have to go through the horrors I did unnecessarily,” said Kevin.
One measure that has been addressed as a result of Kevin’s complaints is that families in cases such as these are assigned a dedicated liaison officer to help and support them – something the Gosdens were not offered.
South Yorkshire Police said in a statement: “Complaints received in relation to the disappearance of Andrew Gosden between 2008 and 2015 were thoroughly looked into via the force’s Professional Standards Department.
“These complaints have now been finalised and as a result of the internal investigative process, management action was advised in relation to some of the complaints.
“The two complainants have been updated and there are no current, outstanding complaints in relation to this case.”
Meanwhile, for parents of a child that goes missing it is an agonising experience. For Kevin, there is some comfort in volunteering at his local church.
“I have always been a fairly altruistic character and I feel that this helps me too,” he says. “Doing something to help others is far more rewarding than doing anything for myself.
“In terms of what we did, however, we have no regrets. As parents we did our best for our children, and continue to do so in searching for Andrew.
“To Andrew: we love you, care about you and just want to know that you are OK.”
Missing people – the numbers
Police forces in England and Wales received one call every 90 seconds in 2016 about a missing person, according to official figures.
Data from the National Crime Agency (NCA) revealed more than 335,000 missing person calls were made in 2015/16.
For the first time the NCA has also published data that examined why people go missing.
It showed that one in five people who disappear are reported to have some form of mental health issue.
Abduction and relationship issues are also two of the most common reasons why people disappear.
In October Last year, The Yorkshire Post revealed that 7,344 children had been reported missing in Yorkshire since March 2016.