Usually on my blog I post my weekly column from the Bath Chronicle which is often relatively light-hearted. This, however, is somewhat different.
As many people will now know, two weeks ago the remains of Bath girl Melanie Hall - who had gone missing 13 years ago - were discovered off the M5.
It meant that here in Bath we faced a murder hunt.
I therefore combined my usual weekly column in the Chronicle with the paper's official Editorial Comment (which I also write) to make a plea for local people to do everything they can to help catch the killer.
This is the comment/editorial I wrote, printed on Thursday, October 15.
'The phrase ‘every parent’s nightmare’ is one that is heard so often in everyday usage that it is probably quite meaningless now.
But if the phrase ever had any true meaning, it was in the distressing situation facing Steve and Pat Hall about the disappearance of their daughter, Melanie.
Thirteen years ago this bright, vivacious girl who had everything to live for, made a rare visit to a nightclub in Bath. She was never to return.
In the days, weeks and months that followed there were many theories about what might have happened to Melanie but time and time again the hopes of finding her were dashed and her parents were left in the most appalling state of limbo.
As those months turned to years the hopes that Melanie may one day turn up unexpectedly on the doorstep started to fade away totally but the mystery of what actually happened to her on that evening and where she was now never went away.
Until now that is.
The discovery of Melanie’s body on the side of the M5 last week and the subsequent, sadly inevitable, conclusion that she was the victim of a murder has reopened for her parents the whole awful nightmare again.
For Pat and Steve Hall the news of their daughter’s final resting place brought a welcome closure to the unanswered question that dominated their lives but also reopened the floodgates of pain once again. By throwing themselves into their work and hobbies – Pat was a senior player at the Royal United Hospital and Steve made a massive impression on Bath City Football Club – the couple had been able to create a life for themselves where they were not only the parents of a missing girl.
Now their world has been shaken again and their private anguish has become very public once more.
When the news broke for the family they had very mixed emotions. Although they were obviously distressed to realise the circumstances that led to their daughter’s death, they were at least comforted by the fact that now she can be laid to rest and they can give her the funeral and celebration of her life that she had been hitherto denied.
For the family, the police and indeed the whole city, the closure of this one door has opened another one – and it is one which is hard for us to all face. And that is that somebody – and possibly even somebody who is reading these words – killed Melanie and has escaped justice.
The best way we as a community can now help to respect the memory of Melanie and help her family to get through this new phase of their grieving is to try to do everything we can to help the police track down her murderer. Although this crime took place 13 years ago and there have been many investigations and false dawns since, the discovery of Melanie’s last resting place may well provide some of the vital clues that have eluded the police over the past decade.
The remarkable advances in forensic science and DNA mean that police have far more tools at their disposal to deal with crimes of this nature than ever before, and the clues that should be available by this discovery may well help to solve this long-standing crime. The most important tool of all, however, is still in the hands of the people of this city. Since the discovery, more than 100 calls (now 200) have been made to the incident room from people offering information and help about the case and we once again can only reiterate that if you were a witness or you were around Walcot Street on the night of June 8/9, 1996 and the renewed publicity has triggered something in your mind, no matter how small, then please contact the police.
The police would rather take a 1,000 calls that led nowhere than miss the one crucial one that could make the difference so please don’t hesitate to contact them with any information you have. (You can call them on 0117 945 5811 or via Crimestoppers Confidential on 0800 555111.)
And there is a whole new set of people who can help this case – people who may have been nowhere near Walcot Street in the summer of ’96. And they are the people who may have had suspicions that somebody close to them may have been involved in this terrible crime. None of us would like to face up to these suspicions, but we owe it to the memory of this young girl – and maybe others like her who were in similar circumstances – to act upon those doubts.
Perhaps if this is you, you had the thought at the back of your mind that maybe this case wasn’t as bad as it might have been. But now you know that we are talking about a brutal murder, it is time to act.
It is time to pick up that phone.
The disappearance of Melanie Hall has been a painful part of our city’s life for 13 years. Melanie’s parents cannot speak highly enough of the support they’ve had from people in Bath and the Bradford on Avon area. They know that everyone locally would like to see a resolution to this crime once and for all – let us give them that support to do so.
Finally, let us pay a tribute to Melanie Hall herself. She was a much-loved daughter and sister with an appetite for life and a wonderful spirit and in the weeks and months to come let us remember and celebrate that fact. She had a terrible death but a wonderful life before and let us all try to remember the girl and not just the victim.
Rest in peace, Melanie.
Sam Holliday, Editor