Series 5 • The Disappearance of Nicola Payne

A raw and compelling, podcast following Host and Investigative Reporter, Mark Williams-Thomas, as he re-investigates one of the biggest unsolved murder cases in the country that has baffled the police for almost 30 years.

In a UK first, Mark puts his own money and reputation on the line to conduct a thorough re-investigation into the disappearance and murder of 18-year old Nicola Payne, to try to give answers to her family and find out where her remains could be.

With full support from Nicola’s grieving family, total access to all of West Midlands polices case files, and the UK’s top private forensic search team, our podcast captures the twists and turns of a very real investigation.

Saturday 14 December 1991 – Coventry. 18-year-old mum-of-one Nicola Payne set off from her boyfriend’s house to walk the short distance to the home she shared with her parents, across an area called the ‘black pad’. Although it was just a 10-minute walk, she never made it to her parents’ house. She simply vanished.

Nearly 30 years on, her body has never been found. It’s the biggest and most expensive unsolved case in the history of West Midlands Police – and one of the biggest in the UK, which they are desperate to solve, hence their total co-operation.

Within 48 hours of her disappearance two men, Barwell and O’Reilly, were arrested on suspicion of Nicola’s abduction and murder. They gave an alibi which at that time could not be broken and, although they went on the run whilst on bail and changed their identity meaning they could not be picked out at an ID parade, the police did not have enough evidence to charge them.

At the time the police found several items of significance, but forensics was in its infancy.

In 2015, nearly 25 years after Nicola’s disappearance, a cold-case investigation team made a crucial discovery with the case evidence; advancements in forensics resulted in finding Nicola’s DNA on the tent bag recovered in 1991. Both men, Barwell and O’Reilly, were charged with her murder. At their Crown Court trial the defence argued that the evidence linking the suspects to Nicola had been contaminated whilst in police care. Subsequently, both men were acquitted.

Nicola’s family were desperate for another breakthrough but the police leads had gone cold again. All her, now elderly parents, want is to bring Nicola home so they can bury her. In 2018 they asked Mark to re-investigate her disappearance, to seek answers and to try and find Nicola.

Mark Williams-Thomas has agreed to help the family and re-investigate the disappearance and murder of Nicola Payne, to date he has done it all pro bono, Mark believes the answers lie within the community and is determined to find them. Mark’s investigation, gives listeners an all-access pass to see what it’s like to undertake a cold case murder investigation.