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Every detail of the investigation into the disappearance of Michael Martin – Manchester Evening News

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It started as a police missing appeal.

Michael Martin had not been seen for nearly a week. His loved ones were beside themselves.

The 25-year-old’s car had been found abandoned near his home.

Detectives said they feared Michael, last seen at a petrol station in Bolton, had been assaulted.

“His disappearance is very out of character. We are worried that he has come to harm,” Det Insp Clare Devlin said.

“Michael, if you are reading this message, your father would like you to call him so he can be sure you are okay.”

Michael most probably never did read that message.

Michael Martin disappeared in August 2016

He may have already been dead.

It quickly became clear Michael hadn’t run away; he wasn’t hiding. And this was no accident.

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Three days later, the missing person investigation became a murder probe – one with no body.

Eerie CCTV footage of Martin’s last movements was soon released. Searches of woodland months lasted weeks.

 

Things went quiet for a while.

But just over three years on, there’s movement in the case.

Officers are combing Clifton Country Park. It’s the latest in a number of extensive searches.

Michael’s family is more desperate for answers than ever.

Michael’s mother Karen Williams said she couldn’t rest until she knew where her son was

Hopefully, some semblance of closure will soon follow.

Here, the Manchester Evening News looks at the investigation thus far and the tragic story of a vulnerable young man who ‘disappeared off the face of the earth’; yet another suspected victim of Salford’s criminal underworld.

A handful of people have been arrested. No one has ever been charged.

A £50,000 reward is on offer for information that leads to Michael’s killer being caught.

Anyone with information is asked to call GMP on 101, quoting incident number 1248 of August 8, 2016; or Crimestoppers, anonymously, on 0800 555 111.

August 13, 2016: Police launch missing appeal

GMP released a statement relating to Michael’s disappearance, as well as a picture of the young man, originally from Little Hulton in Salford.

Detectives said Michael, who had mental health problems for which he needed medication, was last seen at his Blackley flat on Sunday, August 7.

He had not been seen since leaving Sidmouth Drive in the early hours.

Michael’s car was found on Vermere Avenue, not far from his home.

Officers said they were growing increasingly concerned and feared he may have been assaulted.

They urged anyone with information to come forward and asked Michael himself to get in touch.

Michael Martin, with his mother Karen

Det Insp Clare Devlin said: “This disappearance is very out of character for Michael, and we are worried that he has come to harm.

“We believe he may have been the victim of an assault, and if that is the case it is even more important that we find him soon.

“If anyone has seen Michael in the last few days or think they know the whereabouts of him, please contact police immediately.

“Michael, if you are reading this message, your father would like you to call him so he can be sure you are okay.”

Karen Williams

Michael was reported missing by his dad Gregory, who he called every day.

He knew his father’s number off by heart, so would have been able to call even if he had lost his phone, police said.

Michael needed medication for a mental health condition and may have been suffering an episode when he ran away from the petrol station, the force added.

August 16, 2016: Missing investigation becomes murder probe

From the start, detectives suspected Michael had been assaulted.

On August 16, officers confirmed that although no body had been found, they were treating the case as a murder investigation.

Greater Manchester Police’s Major Incident Team was called in.

Officers were seen searching two properties in Blackley – a flat on Victoria Avenue and a house on Longton Road.

Residents said police had been at the semi-detached home for ‘over a week’.

Michael Martin

Many claimed not to know the occupants. A broken window was boarded up on the first floor of the house and bags of evidence lay in the front garden.

A room at the Premier Inn on Middleton Road in Higher Blackley was also searched.

Det Insp Andrew Naismith said: “We are keen to speak to anyone who may have any information about what has happened to missing Michael Martin.

“We are investigating a number of possibilities. However, a non-body murder investigation has now been launched.”

August 22, 2016: CCTV video showing Michael’s last movements released as police offer £10k reward

Chilling CCTV footage of Michael’s last known movements was released by police six days later.

It shows shows him behaving erratically before running away from an Esso petrol station in Kearsley, Bolton.

At this point, police offered a £10,000 reward for information leading to Michael being found.

By August 22, the M.E.N. learned that an anonymous tip-off was what lead to police believing Michael had been the victim of an assault.

But officers have not been able to verify where or when it happened – or if it is even accurate.

It was also revealed that Michael was known to police prior to his disappearance.

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The investigation established that he was at the petrol station on the A666 Bolton Road in Kearsley at 7.30am on August 7.

CCTV shows Michael behaving erratically and opening the doors of his black Ford Focus before running away.

He can be seen talking to a man inside the petrol station, who later gets into the Focus and drives it away.

The vehicle was later found abandoned in Blackley, with damage to the ignition and a window.

A second car Michael owned, a blue Vauxhall Corsa, was found damaged and abandoned on Bannerman Avenue in Prestwich on Friday, August 12.

The man who was with him was arrested on suspicion of assault.

Michael Martin was filmed on CCTV at a petrol station on Bolton Road, Kearsley

The room of a Premier Inn where he had been staying in Middleton was among three properties to be searched.

The suspect, and a second man, were released on bail pending further enquiries.

Michael last used his phone on August 7. He last accessed his bank account on August 2.

Det Supt Jon Chadwick, head of the Major Incident Team at Greater Manchester Police, said: “It’s important to know Michael may still be alive.

“He may have disappeared on purpose. He may have died accidentally whether that be a drugs overdose or an accident.

“If he had died accidentally, we would have expected to find him by now.”

He described Mr Martin’s family as ‘frantic’ with worry.

Appealing to the public for information, he said: “We’d like any information about where Michael is or where he was in the week up to his disappearance and any motive for why he may have wanted to go to ground.

“It’s important to say that if he’s dead and people are aware where his remains are, his family is desperate to have his remains. They are realistic.

“They realise there’s a fair chance he’s deceased.”

March, 2017: Police search woodland

A major operation to scour woodland was launched by police as they stepped up the search in March, 2017.

Officers were seen trawling an area off Grosvenor Street in Little Hulton, just a short distance away from the petrol station where Michael was caught on CCTV.

People living nearby said it was part of more than three weeks of searches in Horridge Brook, a wooded area that runs behind the residential estate.

A major operation to scour woodland was launched by police

Searches focused on a patch off the M61 bridge and a footpath surrounded by dense woodland.

Specialist and tactical aid unit officers spent hours carefully combing among the trees and branches for clues.

Officers also donned harnesses to abseil down a steep embankment near Kersley train station.

June, 2018: Michael’s mother makes direct plea for help – as police reveal Michael had large amount of cash the night before he disappeared

At this point, Michael’s family had been suffering for nearly two years.

His mum Karen Williams, then 49, decided to speak to the Manchester Evening News to appeal to anyone with information to contact police.

The interview was heartbreaking.

Karen pleaded for those who know where the remains of her missing son lie to end her agony.

By June, 2018, police had established that the night before his disappearance, Michael and a friend came into possession of a large amount of cash.

Karen, who has four other children, said she feared the worst.

“I feel he is not alive,” she said.

Karen Williams with a picture of son Michael Martin

“It has been very tough over these past two years. Every day I think of him.

“I think it may have been a situation that went too far.

“As a family we looked for him ourselves – me and his dad, Gregory. We are still looking for answers.”

In a plea to those who know the truth, she said: “Have a conscience and report it to police. Even if you do it anonymously, we can find him, at least.

“I couldn’t live with that guilt.”

Karen added: “Michael did have mental health issues. He had been suffering from depression and anxiety up to the time of his disappearance.

“I saw him a couple of days before he disappeared and he seemed okay.”

August 7, 2018: Two years on, police reveal they suspect a gangland ‘taxing’ row may have left to Michael’s death

Two years after Michael disappeared, police reiterated that they were convinced he was murdered.

That assertion was not new, but the revelations of August 7, 2018, were truly shocking.

Detectives said they believed the 25-year-old was sucked in to Salford’s criminal underworld and that the night before he vanished, he collected several thousand pounds.

It’s likely Michael would not have benefited from that money.

He had mental health issues and was being used and exploited by an organised crime gang who preyed on his vulnerability, detectives said.

Michael Martin’s mother Karen, making a video appeal for information

The key to solving the case still lies with those criminal associates.

A reward for information leading to a conviction was massively increased – from £10,000 to £50,000.

Detective Supt Lewis Hughes said: “From our inquiries Michael and his friend collected a large amount of money on the evening before Michael disappeared from the petrol station.

“We suspect that that money may have been from criminality and it may have been taken from other criminals.

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“We believe that Michael was being exploited and coerced by those that used Michael to assist with their own game, their own criminality.

“Some of Michael’s friends are gang members. I believe they know what has happened to Michael. They may be involved in his murder, in his disappearance.”

The crime gang Michael was involved with had links to drug dealing and high-value robberies.

“I believe his associates preyed on his vulnerability and exploited Michael,” Det Supt Hughes added.

Detective Superintendent Lewis Hughes

Mr Hughes said that the night before he vanished Michael had been out with the same man he was seen talking to at the petrol station.

“They had been to the city centre, Blackley, Middleton, numerous areas. I believe they met with friends and criminal associates. During that night we know they collected a large amount of money, believed to be in the thousands, and that money has never been recovered.

“It may be that the argument we see at the petrol station is Michael and his friend arguing about that cash.”

He added: “It has been two years since Michael was last seen and the agony that his family have had to endure every day since then is truly heartbreaking.

“We remain committed to finding out exactly what happened to Michael and believe that someone within the local community knows what happened to him or has information that could really assist with our enquiries.

“We are offering a significant amount of money for any information that helps us find out what happened to Michael and bring those responsible to justice.

“If you know anything at all, I implore you, please get in touch with us so that we can provide Michael’s family with some answers.”

Michael’s mother, said: “He was a popular boy. He loved going to the gym… socialising.

Michael Martin disappeared in August 2016

“He was just one of those really good kids who grew up and took the wrong path, which got him in trouble.”

She last saw him on the Wednesday before he vanished.

“We had a hug and a kiss and that’s the last time I saw him. It has been torture, every single day.

“I know he is out there somewhere and to be never able to see him, or speak to him, or tell him how much I love him again is a nightmare every day.”

Appealing to those who know what happened to her son to come forward, she said: “You can do it anonymously, but you have to do this, you have to have a conscience, you can’t live with this.

An evidence tent has been erected at the scene

“We will never be at rest until we find out where my son is. We want to bring him home. We want some closure.

“I know people out there that know his whereabouts, that are keeping quiet about it, which is an awful thing to do. All I can say is for God’s sake, please come forward.”

Mr Hughes said: “This is the most complex murder case I’ve ever investigated.

“A body has never been recovered, therefore a post mortem can’t take place, there are no witnesses that have come forward, there is no crime scene, no murder weapon. Michael has literally disappeared of the face of the earth.”

August, 2019: Search of park begins

Police are now searching Clifton Country Park.

This week, a section of woodland has been taped off.

A yellow evidence tent has been erected at the scene, as well as large floodlighting rigs.

The cordon is off a dirt track that leads away from the car park off Manchester Road.

Detectives are searching the area in connection with Michael Martin’s murder

GMP confirmed the area was being searched in connection with the murder investigation.

A spokesperson said: “We are currently carrying out a search on an area of land inside Clifton Country Park.

“The search is in relation to the investigation into the murder of Michael Martin.”

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