THE devastated family of grandad Robert Hutchinson – whose disappearance has sparked a murder probe – today said they were clinging to fast-fading hopes that he was still alive.
Mr Hutchinson, who should have been celebrating his 57th birthday with his family yesterday, went missing from his home in Corporation Road, Hendon, on Monday, June 23.
He was last seen on CCTV at Asda petrol station in Leechmere filling his blue Nissan Micra, which police said was found in Stewart Street, just off Chester Road.
On Wednesday, detectives arrested a 55-year-old man on suspicion of Mr Hutchinson’s murder and two others – aged 39 and 59 – on suspicion of assisting an offender.
The 59-year-old has been released without charge but the 39-year-old’s arrest has now since been changed to murder.
He and the 55-year-old have been released on police bail.
Today his family said they are refusing to give up hope.
Daughter Paula, 30, told the Echo: “We’re hoping in our hearts he is still alive, but it’s just been too long now.
“If he is alive, I just want to let him know that we all love him, we are missing him and want him to get in touch if he can.
“The police told us about the arrests, but nothing about who the people arrested are.”
Paula, who is mum to Josh, eight, added that the huge strain on the family continues to grow with each passing day that her dad is missing. Paula added: “Everybody is just in bits at the minute.
“I’ve had to keep my son off school and I haven’t told him anything.
“I just don’t want him going to school because kids talk and say things which he shouldn’t hear.”
Detective chief inspector Nicola Musgrove, of Northumbria Police Major Crime Team, said: “Our thoughts are with his family at what is an exceptionally difficult time for them. They need answers as to what has happened.
“Our inquiries to find Robert are on-going, we are searching a number of areas and carrying out a number of inquiries.
“We believe there will be members of the community who have information and we need those people to come forward and speak to us. I would like to reiterate that we will treat information in the strictest of confidence.
“We would ask those who know what has happened to think how they would feel if this was one of their family members.
“No matter how small the information is, it could prove to be fundamental in our inquiries.”
Anyone with information regarding Mr Hutchinson’s disappearance is urged to call Northumbria Police on 101 ext 69191, quoting reference 410 260614, or Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800 555 111.