Peter Hough

Peter Hough
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Tuesday, 31 January 2012

The Search for Alethea Taylor

When we went down to Ludlow recently for a caravanning break, we didn’t realise we would be involved in the search for a missing woman.

 Linda and I were staying on a farm on the edge of Orleton, a picturesque village in north Herefordshire. There are two pubs, a village hall and a shop and post office supported by the 800 or so residents. Two of those residents are Alethea and John Taylor who have a funeral services business.

A few days into our break we were alerted on the Thursday evening, 19 January, by the noise of a hovering helicopter. I went outside and saw a police helicopter above the houses, moving to and fro, obviously searching for someone. This went on for an hour or two. 

In the meantime we tuned into BBC Radio Hereford & Worcester and learned that a woman had disappeared from Orleton earlier in the day. According to the reports, John Taylor left for work at around 8.30am and on his return in the late afternoon his wife had gone – although her car was still at home. When he couldn’t find her whereabouts, he called the police.

Apparently, I learned later, Mr Taylor was concerned because his wife had recently experienced two or three episodes where she would find herself in a place she didn’t recognise, with no idea as to who she was. It would seem she had wandered from home while in this altered state of consciousness. Fortunately on these occasions she had been re-united with her husband, and the amnesia had passed.

I spoke to villagers who described Alethea as a pleasant, jolly person, who was a prompter for the current play being put on by the local amateur dramatic society. It seems these amnesiac events were isolated incidents which didn’t affect her usual daily life.

The following day we went walking up on Bircher Common and the woods above the village, accompanied by the police helicopter as it widened its search. We kept a special look-out and walked as far as the hill fort above Croft Castle, but found no clues to the missing woman.

Over the weekend police dogs were out searching for her scent and the footpaths and hedgerows were investigated. Farmers were checking their outbuildings, and villagers looked in garages and garden sheds.

When I went for a Sunday paper from the village shop, I talked to a few locals, and everyone was mystified. We were due to travel home on Monday, but I had been told a search was being organised that morning, so we decided to stay an extra day and help.

We arrived at the village hall to find it a hive of activity. About 80 villagers had turned up with police and members of Severn Area Rescue Association who were using inflatable boats to search ponds and lakes in the area.

After we had ‘signed in’ the volunteers were divided into four groups each with its own leader. Linda and I were in Andrew Summers’ group who owns the village shop. We travelled with him in his jeep and a convoy of cars to the starting point of our search – about two miles east of Orleton near the hamlet of Morton.

Andrew was very well organised, which he put down to his involvement in the Sea Cadets! We stretched out in a single line and slowly walked across the fields. Over the course of the day we swept a number of fields and searched pockets of woodland for Mrs Taylor, or a shoe or item of clothing which might lead to her discovery. The only thing we found was an umbrella, which wasn’t linked to her.

We returned to the village hall at lunch time for a cup of tea and some sandwiches. The local BBC radio and television were also there, and they interviewed us, intrigued that we were from near Southport. Then we all went back to continue the search.

During the hours we spent with the group we got to know many of them, and they were surprised to learn that we weren’t local. They were dedicated to finding Mrs Taylor and very thorough. Some of them knew her personally.

I would like to say that we found the missing woman, or that she had been discovered in the eight days since we left. After we had gone the search did continue for a time, and the lake at nearby Berrington Hall was also examined. Sadly Alethea Taylor seems to have vanished. 

There were three potential sightings of her on the day she disappeared – but these were not confirmed. The Herefordshire police have now passed on her details to other forces nationwide. Of the 350,000 people who go missing every year in the UK, 2,000 remain unaccounted for. For the moment at least, Alethea is one of these.

PS: Police issued a statement on 12/06/12 that a man in his sixties has been arrested on suspicion of murder. It was revealed the next day that it was John Taylor, Alethea's husband. He has since been accused.

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