Family torn between hope and despair for missing son

THE family of a South Yorkshire teenager who has been missing for the past 15 months were today preparing to start another new year stuck between "hope and despair".

Andrew Gosden was aged 14 when in September 2007 he left his family home in Doncaster and headed to London with just a couple of hundred pounds in his pocket.

The only confirmed sighting of the teenager since then remains grainy CCTV images of him leaving King's Cross station in the capital on the day he vanished.

They are poignant pictures - dressed in a T-shirt from one of his favourite heavy metal bands and carrying a small bag, there is a calm, almost inquisitive expression on his face.

But his failure to make contact since - and the lack of any other firm lead - has left police baffled, his teachers perplexed and his parents devastated.

"It never gets better. It just goes on and on and on," said his father Kevin, of Littlemoor Lane, Balby, who has now spent his second Christmas without any sort of resolution to the question of what has happened to his son.

"People ask questions like: 'What if the worst should have happened?' And they mean: 'What if you find a body?' And as chilling a thought as that may be, it is not the worst," he said.

"I go to sleep each night praying that he is not hurting, not lonely, not being hurt or abused. If there were a dead body, then I would know, not knowing if he is in pain or the victim of abuse of some kind is a thought that terrifies me far more. Can you imagine thinking or knowing that someone else is hurting your child and there is nothing you can do about it?

"It is that which puts a real chill in my heart."

Kevin, 43, his wife Glenys, 44, and daughter Charlotte, 17, have done everything possible to find Andrew - a super-bright teenager at McAuley School who was heading for a string of top grades at GCSE - and publicise his completely out-of-character disappearance.

It is a testament to their relentless hard work that Andrew's face has appeared in national newspapers, on television bulletins and even on thousands of milk cartons as part of a campaign for missing children.

But Kevin admits now the family have a dilemma - keep pushing for publicity in the face of waning media interest or try to move on?

"This is the ultimate problem of unresolved situations. If we feel a need to move on, to draw a line and say we have done all we can, does this show us to be callous?

"And how can we ever give up on our son? We still love him. The balance between hope and despair is impossible to resolve for us."

The family had intended the first anniversary of Andrew's disappearance last September - marked with a moving church service and huge leaflet drop in London - to be the watershed moment, but Kevin concedes it has been impossible.

"I continue to struggle with depression, anxiety and disbelief," said the speech and language therapist, who has already given up his job because of his mental health.

"There are good days and bad ones. I try to put on a front when I need to, but the truth is I never knew it was possible to feel so bad for so long and you really cannot comprehend it until you walk in another's shoes."

Of course the anguish for Andrew's parents has been played out against the backdrop of two much more high-profile cases of missing children - Madeleine McCann and Shannon Matthews.

The family feel some affiliation with Madeleine's parents, who like them still await answers, but are troubled by the effect the Shannon case might have had on the British public.

"Charlotte was quite angry and upset, feeling that when so many people work hard to raise awareness of genuine needs, it is undone so readily by an unusual but highly publicised case such as this," Kevin said.

"I wonder myself if it causes the public to make assumptions that there are dysfunctional families behind all missing cases. All I can assure you is that that is not the case."

Charlotte herself is evidence the family has pulled together in its time of crisis. Despite Andrew's disappearance she has studied hard for her A-levels and recently had an interview for a place at Oxford.

"I have no idea how she has managed to remain so focused over such a difficult time for us as a family, but I am in awe of the way in which she has coped. I could not feel more pride in any daughter," Kevin said.

Despite everything that has been thrown at them, the family also refuse to be angry with Andrew.

"We have all had fleeting moments of anger because the fall out from his disappearance has made our lives so hard. But this is rare for us.

"At least we have 14 years of good memories, of a happy, intelligent, caring boy of whom we remain fiercely proud and whom we have loved deeply since the day he was born.

"If Andrew walked back into our lives tomorrow he would be received with joy and forgiveness: and if his tastes are the same, pizza.

"He is our son and nothing will stop us loving him."

Anyone with information on Andrew's whereabouts is asked to contact South Yorkshire Police on 0114 220 2020 or the Missing People helpline on 0500 700 700.

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