My heart breaks for the family of missing Corrie Mc Keague.
They’re going through hell waiting for news – and unfortunately I know only too well what that feels like.
Almost six years ago Ciaron Nuttal, the man I once thought I would marry, vanished just like Corrie.
Watching Corrie’s girlfriend on television takes me back to the agonizing early days of Ciaron’s disappearance.
The shock, bewilderment and disbelief that somebody so young, vibrant and popular could just vanish without a trace made no sense.
And though I have learned to live with it, the sadness and guilt that you feel when somebody you love goes missing still remains and I guess it always will – until he is found.
I was just 16 when I met and fell in love with Ciaron. All the girls fancied him so when he made it clear he fancied me I was chuffed.
He quickly became my best friend as well as my boyfriend.
He was a soldier in the Army but left just a few months after we met because we hated being apart.
Ciaron moved in with me at my mum’s house and when we’d been together a year he proposed in front of his family with his Nan’s ring.
We both cried when I said yes. Ciaran had decided to go back into the Army so we threw a joint engagement and leaving party.
It seems ironic to think how much I missed him when he left – even though we still spoke all the time. In the end he decided to leave again.
Deep down I was pleased because we both hated being apart. Only now I wonder if things might have turned out differently if he had stayed…
When he returned home I bought him an engagement ring to wear – but as madly in love as we were, our relationship was fraught with rows.
I can see now it was just because we were young, but at the time it had felt like the end of the world when I found messages from other women on his phone.
Ciaron had sworn they were innocent, but being young and head strong I had wanted to hurt him back, so when we broke up over it I even started seeing somebody else.
Ciaron was gutted – but I had a point to prove.
Only when I met him to pick up some stuff I had left at his house we ended up kissing. It seemed nothing could keep us apart.
Later he called me and told me: ‘ We are meant to be together. You know I’ll never leave you Steph.’
I knew he was right, but I thought we had all the time in the world and refused to get back with him. How wrong I was.
Just weeks later I was checking his facebook profile using my mum’s account to see what he had been up to when I discovered he’d gone missing.
I was shocked to see messages from his friends asking him to get in touch.
I rang his mum Ann Marie straight away – we’d been very close so when she told me Ciaron hadn’t been seen for days I rushed straight round.
At first they’d thought he’d been with friends, but as time passed it became clear something was wrong. His bank cards and social media were untouched – just like Corrie.
As weeks turned into months and we all knew Ciaron would never have voluntarily been away for so long – he was such a homebody.
I’d done everything for him when we were together and his mum and Nan doted on him.
I left posts telling him to throw stones at my window – something he usually did after we’d rowed.
Every night I fell asleep waiting. One morning I even found a stone – it gave me hope he was still out there. But I quickly realised that news of his disappearance had brought with it trouble makers determined to make things worse.
I began to receive emails claiming to know what had happened and took them to police. They were fake. I felt sick that somebody could stoop so low.
Being close to his family is what got me through. It helped me feel close to him knowing I could support his mum. The toll it had taken on their family was awful and I knew Ciaron would never put them though that.
Tragically his Nan died four months later in 2011. They had been so close that I hoped if he were alive he would go to the funeral.
His mum made me promise that if anything happened to her I would keep looking. I swore I would.
But boyfriends found it hard to accept the presence of Ciaron in my life and every relationship I had broke down because they felt compared to him – until I met Peter Jones, now 27, who understood it wasn’t Ciaron I wanted, it was closure and peace of mind for everyone who had loved him.
Last year I was heartbroken when Ciaron’s mum died – one week before the fifth anniversary – still not knowing what had happened to him.
By then I was a mum myself to Ava, now two and could only imagine the pain she had endured.
Until then I always believed he was alive, but I knew he would never miss his mum’s funeral.
But how could we mourn him without a body, it didn’t feel right.
In March it will be six years and I’m still desperately hoping for a breakthrough. I won’t stop looking for Ciaron just as Corrie’s family will never stop looking for him.
I promised his mother that I wouldn’t let him be forgotten, that’s why I am telling his story now.
A first I was searching because I wanted him back, but even though that’s not the case now – my life is with Peter and our daughter – I still need answers as does his brother and the rest of his family.
I’ve had to move on for my own sanity. One day Corrie’s girlfriend might have to take that step too. I want her to know that it may not feel like it now, but she does have a future.
I have an amazing partner who understands and supports me and we have a wonderful daughter.
But I owe it to Ciaron to keep his name alive.
Anyone with information should call the police on 0161 856 2446 or Crimestoppers, anonymously, on 0800 555 111.