5 June 2020 No Comments by The Northern Standard

The family of a Castleblayney native who went missing while believed en route from London to Spain in the early 1990s have appealed to people within the circulation area of the Northern Standard to assist in their quest for information. Bernadette Cooper, née Susan Bernadette Hughes and a native of Tavnaskea, Castleblayney, was last heard of in January 1993 when she contacted a Spanish friend from London to indicate that she was returning to the Benalmadena area where she had previously operated a bar business.

British police are currently conducting a missing persons investigation. Leon Moore, a niece of Bernadette, contacted the Northern Standard requesting that we publish the details of the case in the hope that someone in Castleblayney or the wider area might be able to shed some light on what became of her aunt. “Myself and Bernadette’s children and other family members want to publicise her disappearance and see if we can generate new leads in line with the ongoing investigation,” Ms Moore told us.

The background to and circumstances of Bernadette’s disappearance are detailed in the following article written by Ms Moore, which she has entitled “The Vanishing – The Mysterious Disappearance of Bernadette Cooper”: “Are you going away with no words of farewell, will there be not a trace behind…” So sang Tom Paxton, in his 1964 hit, That Was The Last Thing On My Mind. What exactly was the last thing on my aunty, Bernadette Cooper’s mind when she concluded her business in London in the early part of 1993 remains a mystery to this day.

What we do know: In the late 1980s she was running a bar called Molly Malone’s (not to be confused with the Molly Malones in 24 Hour Square, but the premises that is now trading as Wheel, Tapas and Punters on Ave Antonio Machado 50) with her then husband, Brian Cooper, in Benalmadena, Spain. After an auspicious beginning and promising returns, the Spanish recession of the early ‘90s had a devastating effect on takings and turnover, plunging their dream of a life in the sun into crisis. In quick succession her marriage began to founder, too, and Brian returned to the UK in 1991 to prepare for a divorce, leaving Bernadette and their young son to make a go of it themselves. Sadly, things did not improve and, with dwindling resources, Bernadette found herself behind on the rent for the property. Desperately in need of funds and unable to raise cash from friends or family to see the recession out, Bernadette temporarily shut the bar in late 1992, and boarded a plane for London. Her destination was the former marital home in Mitcham, Surrey, and beyond that a settlement from the divorce.

Friends in Spain to this day speak of her total determination and fierce energy to make a go of things – she just would not be beaten. We awaited her return, they said. Early in January 1993 one of these friends received a triumphal phone call. “Do me a favour, would you? Tell the lawyer acting for the bar that I have the funds… tell him don’t give the bar away, I am on my way back with the money.” That call was placed from the bar of The Horse and Groom public house in Tooting Broadway. The message was duly conveyed to the Spanish lawyer, but sadly they were the last words that anyone connected to Bernadette that can be traced has ever heard from her. Not a word since. No family member, friend or her own children has ever received news of her. And, most disturbing of all, she never did arrive back in Spain. The bar remained shut throughout that winter and eventually the lease sold to another with a dream of a life in the sun.

Bernadette’s belongings were found in the bar’s apartment, stored in the attic for a while, but never claimed, eventually being thrown out by new owners. Various agencies, including The Salvation Army have tried to trace her without success in the intervening years; word of mouth among the Irish communities of England and Spain has produced no result But a fresh determination has blown life into the investigation in recent months and the British police have opened an official missing person enquiry. We will have to wait for advances in technology not present at the time she went missing to bear fruit, but the process has begun.

It is 28 years since her disappearance. Nearly three decades of silence. Sightings and tip-offs have ended in disappointment, dead ends, wasted journeys. To say it is out of character for her would be an understatement. Next month she will be 77 years old. On good form she was feisty and vivacious and loved good company and family. It is inconceivable to those who knew her well that she would voluntarily vanish into thin air. That would be the last thing on her mind.

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