EVENTS in Machynlleth last week brought back painful memories for a Caldicot family, who are still waiting for answers eight years after their son vanished. CHRIS WOOD spoke to Geoff and Catherine Nutley as the eighth anniversary of James’ disappearance looms.
GOLF was James Nutley’s life and it is through the game that his parents are keeping his memory alive and holding onto the hope he may one day return home.
It will be eight years ago on October 24 that Mr Nutley, then 25, disappeared while on a golfing trip to Tenby.
Since then his parents, Geoff, 66, and Catherine, 59, have gone through the heartache of having a Milford Haven man falsely claim he killed Mr Nutley, while police also told them they were investigating another false allegation he’d been shot.
No trace of their son, however, has ever been found apart from four of his cards left on the beach the morning after the last sighting of him – though this only added to the mystery, because if they’d been left at the time of his disappearance, the tide would have washed them away.
While his parents have gone through periods suspecting he was murdered, they are now resigned to remaining in the dark, with Mr Nutley saying: “Our choice in this is nil, we have to put up with the cards we have been dealt.
“We’ll sit and wait, we can’t give up, if he comes home, he comes home. We haven’t got a choice, we have to cope.”
Their heartache has plateau’d and turned into an acceptance of “this is the way life is now”, but it was the disappearance of five-year-old April Jones in Machynlleth last week that brought back memories of the initial shock and despair.
Mr Nutley added: “It is a terrible time, the first month is dreadful as you’re just waiting for news, wondering ‘what can I do?’ “We didn’t go out for two months as we were just waiting for him to come home.
When we did, people avoided us, were embarrassed to talk about it. But we just brought it up, got that awkward conversation out of the way.
“But now, eight years on, we still don’t talk about him in the past tense. One friend asked us about holding a memorial service. But how can you? It’s a forlorn hope, but people do turn up 15, 18 years later. No-one knows.”
The couple have just moved to a new home in Caldicot, and while many items are still waiting to be unpacked, the most important things are already on display.
Photos of James, his many trophies, golf bags, clubs and memorabilia are an illustration of just how important the game is to the Nutley family.
James was junior captain at Dewstow Golf Club, where players remember him fondly and get together each year, around the time of his disappearance, for a game.
His parents have also just finished a year of being team captains at the club and jointly raised more than £3,000 for chosen charity Missing Wales.
Mrs Nutley said: “Every day we talk about him and when we have a game of golf we’ll chat about James and remember what he was like.
“We’re usually wearing or using some of his equipment when we play, which is all over the house, so in some ways he’s still very much here.”
She said: “I should never have got him into it,” as she recalled that the former Chepstow Comprehensive pupil was “football mad and into swimming” when he was young.
But James suffered from asthma, and after Mrs Nutley started playing golf, she got her son and daughter Helen, now 31, into it, when he was 14.
The game suited 6ft 5in James better and he excelled, winning the Ian Woosnam junior trophy at Celtic Manor in 1996.
After he got his handicap down to two, former US Masters champion Mr Woosnam told him he could have been a professional if he’d started earlier.
While he worked at the Office for National Statistics in Newport, his mind was always on golf and he was always organising games and trips for colleagues and friends.
He also helped out in the shop at St Pierre Golf Club, Chepstow, and it was in the March before his disappearance that he landed his dream job – travelling around the UK selling equipment for manufacturer Titleist.
On the fateful October day James played a round at Dewstow with friends before heading to Tenby for the annual golf tour.
Mr Nutley said: “James had been going for years and helped organise it.
Technically what happens is the juniors are supposed to look after the adults, as it’s like a rugby tour, with a few games and lots of drinking.
“I’d gone for about 13 years, but couldn’t handle it, I was too old for it.”
James left with two friends and made it safely to The Giltar hotel, before spending the Sunday night in Tenby pubs with his friends.
He left them to return to his room at 11.40pm and the last sighting of him is on a CCTV recording from 11.57pm – where he is just yards from The Giltar.
Mr Nutley said: ‘“He is on the pavement, looking across the road to his hotel. He is just 30 paces away – we have measured it so many times – but he never got to the door.
“All it needed was one more camera, from the seaside on the opposite side of the road and it would have picked him up.
“He could have covered the distance across the road in seconds. It’s a mystery, just unbelievable, like someone picked him up and he’s just gone.”
The next morning James’ driving licence, national insurance card, Dewstow Golf Club and video club memberships were found in a pile on the beach.
If they’d been left the night before, they would have been washed away, meaning they must have been placed there on Monday morning.
James had around 40 cards in his wallet and his parents don’t know if someone robbed him and left the cards they couldn’t use or if he could have planned the disappearance and left them as a sign to his family and friends.
But whatever did happen his parents were about to be sent on an emotional rollercoaster by a number of explanations that proved to be wrong.
In 2006 Richard Fairbrass, then 42, of Milford Haven, was jailed for 27 months after pleading guilty to trying to pervert the course of justice. He admitted making up a story that he killed James Nutley and threw his body off Stack Rocks, Pembrokeshire.
Believing this to be true, James’ parent made an emotional trip to the location.
But while Fairbrass’ statement was found to be lies, the Nutleys had to go through the same ordeal again after police contacted them about another man who allegedly claimed to have killed him.
Officers told them they were contacted by a woman who had heard the man say at a party “Fairbrass stole my thunder”, claiming he had shot James.
Mr Nutley called the story “bizarre”, with it alleged this man’s hobby was shooting at night. He was allegedly on the beach in Tenby shooting plastic bags when he said he had hit a body by accident.
It was found the man wasn’t even in Tenby on the night James disappeared, while there was another false lead after the discovery of bones in Llanelli. These were also found not to be James’.
The couple still travel to Tenby twice a year, on James’ birthday in August and on the anniversary of his disappearance, retracing his steps.
While there is an acceptance he is no longer around, there are times when this is more acutely felt than at others.
Sister Helen had a daughter, Molly, nine weeks ago and his parents say he would have been “thrilled” with having a niece.
There have also been family funerals in the last year where he would have been a coffin-bearer, and has been “sorely missed” at these. While life without James has now become an accepted norm, there are still many unanswered questions, and it is these that at least offer hope.
Mrs Nutley added: “We keep going back to Tenby, but aren’t sad. We look at where he disappeared and think, ‘there’s no way he could get in the water from there’ or we wonder, ‘did he do this?’ The Nutleys may have moved house, but through the photos, trophies and love of golf, James is still very much part of their lives, and even after eight years they remain hopeful their son may one day return.
Dyfed Powys Police yesterday confirmed the case file on James Nutley is still open.