Father hopes to reopen case of British woman who disappeared 20 jare terug

Twenty years since the disappearance of Louise Kerton, who travelled to Duitsland to holiday with her boyfriend’s family and disappeared, her father is looking for fresh leads.

Phil Kerton is hoping publicity to mark the anniversary might trigger memories or encourage police in Germany, the UK or Belgium – which she is supposed to have travelled through via rail and sea – to reopen the case.

“We’d just like to know what happened. Maybe somebody remembers something. I’ve kept the same mobile phone number in the hope she might one day call, however remote that possibility is," hy het gesê.

Louise, 24, failed to turn up following a five-week break with the family of her boyfriend, Peter Simon, in the village of Strassfeld, near Bonn, where she had gone after failing her nursing exams.

Simon’s mother, Ramana, said she had dropped Louise off at Aachen train station on 30 Julie 2001, from where she planned to take a train to the Belgian port of Ostend, and from there a catamaran to Dover.

Egter, no witnesses have ever been found who saw Louise at any stage of the journey. There is speculation as to whether she ever got on the train.

A popular German podcast that concentrates on cold cases took up the cause last year, prompting renewed interest in the disappearance in Germany.

Simon, who is half German, and who shared a home with Kerton in Broadstairs, Kent, had travelled two days ahead of his fiancee from Germany to the UK to pick up some building materials the family had ordered. He went to Dover port on the evening of 30 July when she was scheduled to arrive.

Kerton’s sister, Francesca, whom Simon subsequently telephoned, said he reacted strangely when she didn’t turn up.

Phil Kerton recalled: “He cried, and said she must be dead, whereupon my daughter, Francesca, gesê, ‘Why don’t you consider the possibility she might turn up on the next ferry?''. Another sister, Angela, said in the following days Simon told her that Louise’s ghost had appeared to him.

At his home in New Ash Green near Sevenoaks, Phil Kerton, nou 76 and a retired manager for Blue Circle cement, is surrounded by memories of Louise. Alongside photographs of her with siblings are her ceramics: plates, houses and a totem pole that he jokes is so heavy it’s hard to move when he cleans.

“She was the artistic one," hy het gesê. “Her teachers always said she was a puzzle: so attentive and interested, but she found it hard to present her work, which they said was always a mess.” She was diagnosed with dyslexia, and found art to be an effective way of expressing herself.

She had been born prematurely at 27 weke, Kerton said. “She spent eight to 10 weeks in an incubator and we weren’t allowed to touch her – back then that was the rule. Nowadays they encourage the contact.” She had regular hospital checkups until she was four. “She was very small for her calendar age and very special to us," hy het gesê.

When his daughter vanished, he and his wife, Kath, put up missing person posters around the ports and stations of Dover, Ostend and Aachen, retracing the route Louise was supposed to have taken. The case generated considerable publicity at the time, not least because Louise had been at the same school as Lucie Blackman, the 21-year-old flight attendant who was murdered in Japan in 2000 and with whom Louise was apparently friendly; en, separately, also later attended the same school as Clare Tiltman, wie was stabbed to death in 1993 op die ouderdom van 16, but whose killer was only convicted in 2014.

“We had talked about these cases a lot. She grew up very aware of them, and of the distress they caused their families,” said Kerton.

In the initial weeks after Louise’s disappearance, police in Kent, Belgium and Germany were slow to act, in Kerton’s opinion. Louise was over 18, and Kerton believes that from the officials’ point of view there was no reason to think anything suspicious might have happened to her: it was more likely she had sought a new life.

“But we knew our daughter. She was a loving, caring person, close to her family and friends, who always remembered birthdays, who called us regularly. But she seemed to have vanished into thin air,” Kerton said.

Police did take an interest in Peter Simon’s older brother, Michael, who had once been acquitted for murder in the UK. Her father said Louise had a calming influence on Michael, who was diagnosed with schizophrenia.

Kent police said the inquiry into the disappearance was not their responsibility and to contact German police; police in Aachen said they passed the case on to state police but that it is not an active investigation.

Bob Moffat, a former superintendent with Scotland Yard, whom the Kertons hired as a private detective in late 2001, said two decades on the case “remains one big mystery”.

Moffat believes it was his presence and that of Dai Davies, a former head of royal protection whom the Kertons also hired, that put the pressure on German authorities to search the Simons’ house, as well as nearby gravel pits, though it took them until September 2002 to do so. Nothing was found.

The Simons have always insisted that no member of their family had anything to do with Louise’s disappearance.

Moffat has retained his interest in the case, and although he said he believes, based on more than 50 years of experience in murder investigations, that Louise is most probably dead, he has kept all his files in the hope that one day the case can be solved.

Moffat and the Kertons have repeatedly criticised the Simon family for failing to cooperate with police, and have highlighted what they consider to be inconsistencies and unanswered questions in their accounts. The Simons have since moved out of their home in Strassfeld. Peter Simon is rumoured to be living in Switzerland.

Kath died of stomach cancer 10 years ago without ever learning what happened to her daughter.

“We live in hope of one day learning the truth,” said Kerton. He contacts the police whenever he hears of potential new information, such as last summer when Christian Brückner was named by German authorities as a main suspect in the Madeleine McCann case.

“I said to them to please take a look, due to the range of cases he may have been involved in," hy het gesê.

He still has the handwritten letter Louise wrote to her parents dated 20 Julie 2001, 10 days before her scheduled return to the UK, which was their last message from her. In it, she writes: “I’m keeping well. Having a lovely time in Germany. It’s very green here, the weather is nice. Don’t worry about me.”

He remains puzzled by what he referred to as its brevity and neatness.

“Her letters were almost always long, with lots of things written in the margins, en, due to her dyslexia, lots of crossings out and improvements," hy het gesê.

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