Heartbroken mother of missing boy in nationwide plea for help

By Michael Drummond, PA South East Correspondent

The heartbroken mother of a 16-year-old boy who has not been seen since last Thursday has issued a nationwide plea for help.

The disappearance of Owen Harding from his home in Saltdean, near Brighton, East Sussex, has drawn national attention, with TV presenter and family friend Nadia Sawalha among those sharing the appeal.

With the Covid-19 lockdown making travel difficult, there are fears that the teenager was attempting to walk the 280 miles to his girlfriend’s home in Pocklington, East Yorkshire.

Friends believe Owen Harding may have been trying to walk from his south coast home to see his girlfriend Meg in Yorkshire (Family handout/PA)

Sussex Police, who are involved in the search for Owen, said concern for his safety and welfare continues to grow.

Anyone who sees him should call 999 immediately, and anyone who has seen him or knows of his whereabouts should call 101 or report it online, quoting Operation Chartwell.

Owen’s mother, Stella Harding, said: “We’re all desperately worried about him and the situation is an emergency as it is now six days since he went missing.

“When Owen left, he was upset that he wasn’t going to be able to get a train to visit his girlfriend, Meg, in East Yorkshire due to the lockdown.”

Stella Harding has issued a desperate plea for information about her missing son (Family handout/PA)

Owen was last seen leaving his home between 6pm and 7pm on March 26.

Searches have been taking place in the Saltdean and Telscombe Cliffs area and there have been extensive inquiries in the area, police said.

Owen is white, between 5ft 11in and 6ft, and of athletic build, with short brown hair.

He normally wears white trainers and a dark hoodie, and is thought to have been wearing dark joggers, police said.

Ms Harding added: “While it is extremely out of character for Owen to leave and not be in contact, Covid-19 has put everyone under lots of strain and we don’t want to rule anything out. Some of his friends believe that he may have attempted to walk from Saltdean to the North.

“Because search activity and resources are limited right now, I’m begging the UK public to look out for him whilst out on their daily walks.

“But please make sure that, in doing so, you adhere to social distancing and government guidance and do not put yourself or anyone else at risk.”

A poster appealing for information about missing Owen Harding (Family handout/PA)

Residents around Saltdean and Brighton have been urged to check sheds and outbuildings but friends fear he may have started to walk along roads or fields leading out of Brighton to London in his attempt to reach the capital and then head north.

Investigating officer Detective Chief Inspector Alasdair Henry said: “Along with Owen’s family and friends, we are very keen to hear from anyone who can help us in our search for him.

“Were you driving in the Saltdean and Telscombe Cliffs area the evening of his disappearance and might you have captured dash-cam footage of him? Did you see Owen in the Saltdean area after 6pm on Thursday?

“We would like to thank the public for their support in our investigation and, while we appreciate people would like to help with our searches, we are urging everyone to abide by government guidance at all times.

“We are utilising all our available resources to search locally and will, of course, link up with colleagues across the country if there is anything to suggest that he has travelled out of Sussex.”

Sawalha, who played Annie Palmer in EastEnders and was one of the original presenters of ITV’s Loose Women, posted on Twitter: “PLEASE PLEASE help FIND my daughters friend OWEN HARDING .. he is only SIXTEEN.”