TWO men have been cleared of murdering missing 18-year-old Coventry mum Nicola Payne.
The jury reached its verdict this morning that Nigel Barwell and his brother-in-law Thomas O’Reilly were not guilty of murdering the teenager in the city in 1991.
It was the jury at Birmingham Crown Court’s third day of deliberations.
The 51-year-olds from Coventry had both denied the murder in a four-week trial.
Nicola was last seen on December 14, 1991. Her body has never been found.
The prosecution claimed the pair murdered her as she walked across a piece of waste land known as the ‘Black Pad’.
It was claimed forensic evidence found in a tent on the recreation ground shortly after Nicola’s disappearance contained hair possibly belonging to the young mum.
But the defence claim the evidence first stored decades ago and then lost could have been contaminated.
Speaking outside court, Nicola Payne’s parents John and Marilyn Payne said: “Nicola was not only our daughter, she was a loving mother to her son Owen and sister to her four older brothers.
“She deserves to be laid to rest. We cannot contemplate not knowing where Nicola is for another 24 years.”
Ms Payne’s brother Nigel said: “For nearly 24 years we have lived daily with the anguish of not knowing what’s happened to our beloved Nicola, and worse than that – to this day not knowing where she is.”
“We will never give up on Nicola and therefore we would ask anyone with any information to come forward and contact the police or Crimestoppers.”
Detective Superintendent Mark Payne, from West Midlands Police, said: “This was always going to be a difficult and complex inquiry due to the length of time of the investigation.
“The case was revisited and diligently and meticulously investigated by a team of experienced officers, before the decision was made to arrest two people.
“Extensive evidence was presented to the Crown Prosecution Service, which they agreed was significant enough to lead to two people being charged and brought before the courts.
“Our criminal justice system quite rightly demands a high standard of proof and we acknowledge today’s verdict from the jury.
“This case will always remain open and we will investigate any new evidence which comes to light.
“Our thoughts remain with Nicola’s family.”
The families of Mr Barwell and Mr O’Reilly expressed sympathy for the Payne family but spoke of their “ordeal” and police investigation flaws – having initially been arrested in 1991.