7th December 1997
Unusually, Bink didn’t turn up to play in the church chamber orchestra that Sunday morning twenty-one years ago. We were a small group of half-a-dozen or so. Aged twelve, Bink was our lead violinist. Our only violinist apart from Ben, who was nine and at boarding school most Sundays anyway.
I deduced she must have opted to help with Sunday School instead.
It was only slightly more surprising that she wasn’t home for lunch. Presumably she had gone off with someone from church, and not thought to tell us.
I wasn’t properly puzzled until she wasn’t there to play football. Someone had put together a church team and the first-ever kick-off was at 2.30, on Parson’s Green, opposite our Vicarage front door. I couldn’t think of any reason Bink wouldn’t want to be there. She had fought, and won, a battle to be in her junior school football team. The only girl to do so.
By about three o’clock I asked Shaun whether we shouldn’t perhaps ring the police: just to “check there hadn’t been any accidents”. Isn’t that the correct terminology?
Shaun said of course not and told me not to fuss.
I did it anyway.
Apologising profusely, as I did so, for making such a fuss.
They didn’t seem to think I was.
When had we last seen her? Well I suppose, put like that, at supper the night before, after which we all went to bed.
Was it unusual behaviour?
I supposed it was, in a way, yes. Not unusual for us not to know exactly where all our children were on a Sunday morning. A working Vicarage tends to be a bit buzzing and busy of a Sunday, with lots of people coming and going. But she usually played in the music group. And we were expecting her here for lunch.
Had she had an argument with you?
Absolutely not, no.
Nor with anyone else in the family?
Not at all. We all had a normal, lovely, amicable family supper last night. And then we went to bed.
And she’s never disappeared like this before?
I was beginning to realise the police didn’t think I was making a fuss. They were wondering why on earth a mother would wait until three in the afternoon to report her daughter missing, when she’s only twelve and hasn’t been seen all day.
(What the police didn’t know, of course – because I had completely forgotten the incident so didn’t think to tell them – is that Bink had indeed disappeared once before. Completely. When she was about, what, six or seven? The others had to go to school without her. I was flying out of the country that day, and rang home every time I could stop to find a call box. No Bink. Each time. No news. The final call I made was when the flight had been called and everyone was boarding. It was my last chance, before aborting my flight and returning from Heathrow. She was hiding behind a curtain, stock-still, totally silent, hour after hour. The children had been playing Hide-and-Seek at breakfast and no one had told her the game was over. And Bink always does everything thoroughly.)
It was when I told the police about Alex six months earlier that the tone of the conversation changed. Very suddenly. A switch thrown. Temperature shifted several degrees in an instant. Our ten-year-old had nearly killed himself the previous March, because he was being bullied by teachers at school.
They asked me to repeat this, and then repeated it back to me.
“Stay there, Mrs Atkins. We’ll be with you straight away.”
It was barely ten minutes before several oversized members of the Metropolitan Police were tramping up our Vicarage staircase in their big police boots, and I was wishing the children had tidied their bedroom.