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Dad of missing Sophie Smith plans heartbreaking seaside tribute almost a year after she disappeared

PUBLISHED: 07:48 20 December 2018 | UPDATED: 12:53 20 December 2018

The poster for the missing 21-year-old, Sophie Smith in a shop window in Gorleston. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY

The poster for the missing 21-year-old, Sophie Smith in a shop window in Gorleston. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY

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The father of missing student Sophie Smith is planning a heartbreaking tribute on the first anniversary of her disappearance by releasing a single rose into the waves at Gorleston.

During the search for Sophie Smith. Left to right, Rebecca Russell (aunt), Martin Knowles (father) and Sarah Knowles (sister). Picture: ANTONY KELLYDuring the search for Sophie Smith. Left to right, Rebecca Russell (aunt), Martin Knowles (father) and Sarah Knowles (sister). Picture: ANTONY KELLY

Martin Knowles said he thought of his beautiful, bright and caring daughter every single day and was still at a loss to understand what drove her to lose herself so completely in the early hours of Boxing Day last year.

He said her disappearance just hours before she was due to spend the day with him and other family members was bewildering and desperately tragic in equal measure, and urged anyone who was struggling to seek help.

Sophie, 21, disappeared from her home in Avondale Road in Gorleston at 3am on Boxing Day, without a mobile phone and wearing just a vest and shorts.

Subsequent CCTV footage captured her heading towards the seafront a short time later, but there have been no other confirmed sightings since then.

Sophie Smith, 21, went missing from Gorleston on Boxing Day, 2017. Photo: Norfolk PoliceSophie Smith, 21, went missing from Gorleston on Boxing Day, 2017. Photo: Norfolk Police

Her disappearance sparked searches by the community and by emergency services and a vigil at Norwich Cathedral in March.

Mr Knowles, 48, said it had been a tough year for the family including Sophie’s sister Sarah, 20, without any glimmer of closure since a body had never been found denying them the chance for a proper final farewell.

“It has been really tough having no closure and no body,” he said.

“There’s not a day that I do not think about her. Most of the time I am ok but then I will see someone who maybe looks like her and it will trigger things off again.

“Last week I did some Christmas shopping in Gorleston High Street and there was a missing poster of Sophie and that was a real trigger.

“It is difficult this time of year. After Boxing Day it will get a bit easier I think because I will remember what I was doing this time last year.

“It is going to be strange that Sophie is not going to be here and that we have spent a year without her. Driving down the road she used to live on is hard, there are a lot of reminders everywhere.

“Boxing Day was the day we used to meet up as a family and this year we are going to throw a single rose into the sea when the tide is going out and say a quiet prayer.”

He said he knew nothing of her mental health problems until her disappearance but noted she seemed “distant” and “not herself” on the last day he saw her.

On the outside she had everything going for her, he added, describing her as very pretty, intelligent, and very caring.

She never liked to upset anyone and had worried about being double booked and having to let a friend down.

“We saw her two or three days before Christmas and she was very distant and I knew something was not right,” he said. “She hadn’t been sleeping well but on Christmas Eve she said she had slept better. The last time we saw her we noticed she was not her normal self.”

He hailed the outpouring of help in the weeks after her disappearance, the many missing posters standing as flags of support.

In a heartbreaking video message Sophie revealed she had been afraid of going into hospital for treatment, but urged others to find prompt help.

Carrying on her caring legacy Mr Knowles of Back Chapel Lane, Gorleston, has helped to promote prevention and awareness of mental health issues, speaking at events and particularly focussing on young people.

He said he was keen to encourage anyone who felt they needed help to not delay and to pick up the phone, particularly over Christmas when normal life was suspended and many organisations closed.

“I cannot get my head around what happened that night because it was out of character to run off at 3am. Something must have happened,” he said, adding that he hoped a future inquest would give the family the answers they needed.

A Norfolk Police spokesperson said: “There isn’t any new update and this continues to be treated as a missing person enquiry. We believe the most likely scenario is that Sophie entered the sea at Gorleston.”

Where to find support

Philip Eke, chief executive at Great Yarmouth and Waveney Mind, said: “Christmas can be a really challenging time of year for many of us and living with a mental health problem can make coping even more difficult.

“To those of you who might be struggling, or supporting someone who is struggling, we just wanted to share some of the ways you can find support and information during the holidays:

•The Samaritans offer a listening service which is open 24 hours a day, on 116 123 (this number is free to call and will not appear on your phone bill).

•Mind’s Infoline is open Monday to Friday, 9-6pm on 0300 123 3393. They will be closed on Christmas Day, Boxing Day and New Years Day. The Infoline is for everyone seeking confidential support and information about mental health. The service isn’t only for those experiencing mental health problems. Many contact the Infoline on behalf of a loved one or to find out more about services that support those effected by mental illness.

•Elefriends, run by Mind, is a really supportive online community where you can be yourself, share and be heard. There is someone on hand to speak to you every night till midnight.

•Great Yarmouth & Waveney Mind’s office will be closed from December 22 and will re-open on January 2. However, their website has lots of information on supporting your mental health.

CALM (Campaign Against Living Miserably) is a registered charity, providing advice and support to men. They are open 5pm-midnight on 0800 58 58 58, or on their web chat during the same hours. They also have lots of information on their website.

•If you need immediate help, please go to your nearest accident and emergency department, you can find where this is by calling NHS Direct on 111.

The advice is to take one minute, hour or day at a time.

Things may feel easier in January.

If you still feel you could do with some support in the New Year, you can access support from Great Yarmouth and Waveney Mind, your local Mind mental health charity, by completing a referral form on their website.

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