26 February 2010
I call Janet and pass on the name that my psychologist friend, Erica, has given me of a professional near Manchester: Dr Belinda Browne-Thomas. Janet laughs but says she is prepared to ‘give it a go’ and arranges an appointment.
28 February 2010
I drive to Janet’s local library in New Mills 40 miles away to look at the archives of old newspapers. I have just received a very helpful email from the librarian, Catherine Bolton and I want to find out as much as I can about how the case was reported at the time.
The library is tucked away, just off the one main road through the village. It’s a small but handsome building, puffed up with a bit of importance thanks to its smart bay window and well preserved brickwork.
Catherine tells me proudly that their local history section is the largest outside Matlock. As I look around I realise it is very impressive in comparison to the size of the library. “We have a very active local history society,” explains Catherine pointing out pamphlets and books stacked neatly on shelves, most of which have been written by members of the society. I don’t realise it at the time but the local history society will prove useful for my research, months down the line.
Unfortunately, the story of Fred Handford’s disappearance doesn’t ring any bells. What I don’t realise – and what Catherine doesn’t realise yet – is that she knew Fred’s ex-wife very well. Apparently Martha Handford never spoke of her husband. And Handford is a very common name in the area.
The local newspaper at the time was the High Peak Reporter.
Catherine loads the relevant film for me in the microfiche reader and it isn’t long before I find a front page report and, heart beating, I zoom in.
The headline simply reports: Search goes on for missing farmer. Since this is the first time I’ve seen Fred mentioned in the paper I wonder how the readers know that the search is ‘going on’.
There is no by-line on the piece and no-one is interviewed in the article. It sounds to me as if the police have provided the newspaper with the information and the editor has simply gone with what they’ve been told. I read it again.
‘Fred Handford was last seen by his partner at 6.15pm on Thursday last week at their farm…’
The newspaper is dated 26 March – the previous Thursday was 18 March – which ties in with the date of the grant of Letters of Administration that Katrina, Fred’s daughter had issued stating the date of death. This also ties in with Janet’s haunting description of searching an empty farmhouse, the following day, on 19 March.
But ‘partner’. What does this mean? Does it mean something completely different to what we would assume today? Does it mean ‘business partner’ or does it mean life partner?
I have to be honest, I don’t know. But a reporter on the news desk in 1976 might know the answer.