Still no answers for parents of boy who went missing in 1981

King Charles III’s marriage to the late Diana, Princess of Wales, on July 29, 1981, has gone down in history as the beginning of one of the most famous romances in modern history. Some 600,000 people lined the streets of London to celebrate the union of the heir to the throne to his young bride. One of these spectators was eight-year-old Vishal Mehrotra. That very same day, the schoolboy disappeared, never to be seen again. A new nine-part BBC Studios podcast, titled Vishal, is reexamining the case 40 years later as new evidence has emerged.

The Mehrotra family with a grey cloud over their lives today, with Vishal’s father now resorting to calling on the Prime Minister for help in solving the case.

Vishal and his family, who lived in Putney, London, went to watch the wedding procession of the then Prince Charles and Lady Diana Spencer on what was a beautifully sunny day in 1981.

Later that day, exhausted from the morning’s excitement, he told his family that he would make his own way home, taking a route he had followed several times before.

But when his family got home they couldn’t find him. They assumed he was with friends or that he had already joined the street party which was due to start at 4pm that afternoon.

His father, Vishambar Mehrotra, a former magistrate, explained to the BBC podcast that they only began “panicking” when they couldn’t find him. He said: “There was never the idea in our mind that he had been kidnapped”.

As day turned into evening, Mr Mehrotra grew increasingly “frightened, scared and upset” as none of his friends had seen his son. When Vishal failed to come home in time for the curfew set by his “strict” father, the police were called. Nothing came of their search.

He said: “You never want to believe the worst, you keep saying this could have happened… But there is always this niggle at the back of your head.”

The police claimed to have interviewed 20,000 people and checked 6,000 properties — but nothing. It wasn’t until several months after the disappearance, on February 25, 1982, that any sign of him was found.

Tragically, pigeon shooters stumbled across a skull and several rib bones in a shallow grave on a marshland in Rogate, West Sussex. The coroner recorded an open verdict at his coronation and concluded that “foul play” was likely. The bones were identified as Vishal’s, but no one has been charged in connection with his death.

In 2019, it emerged that Vishal’s disappearance and murder could be linked with a paedophile gang local to the area whose members had been jailed for abusing boys.

One of the men, a convicted paedophile, revealed that he wrote a report in 1983 about caring for Asian children in the UK which he named “Vishal”. However, Sussex Police said they had no plans to make further enquiries, according to a BBC report in 2020.

The document, found just one year after Vishal’s remains were found, was discovered some five miles from his mother’s property where he abused children.

In response to the news, Mr Mehrotra questioned: “Why would my son’s name appear on a document more or less contemporaneously written by a paedophile which is in the possession of the police and the police came to the conclusion that there is nothing more to investigate?”

It emerged last year that since 1981, Sussex police have only reviewed the case once despite the guidance being that unsolved cases should be considered for review every two years.

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His father is now calling on Prime Minister Rishi Sunak to demand a new investigation into the eight-year-old’s disappearance with Mr Mehrotra saying that he has “no faith or trust” in Sussex police, who he believes have been “careless and negligent”.

Mr Mehrotra told the Guardian: “I have no faith or trust in the police service at all. In the last two to four years they have botched up any investigation they had a chance to do.

“They have been careless and negligent. The only person with the proper authority [to intervene] is the prime minister. He’s the only person I can rely on to challenge so many things.”

A Sussex spokesperson said the family were told that “there are no proportionate or viable lines of inquiry to be followed up in this investigation”, but added that the case would remain open “unless it is detected”.

Vishal, the podcast, is available on BBC Sounds here.

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