STARING at a picture of her 15-year-old son, Winifred Billington is haunted by the last time she saw him alive.
Teenager Mark disappeared while out riding his bike, in September 1984, hours after he declined to go shopping with his mum and sister Cheryl, then seven.
Bungling West Midlands Police officers even took Winifred to see a spiritualist medium as they hunted fruitlessly for the missing boy.
But after ten weeks of agonising uncertainty for the family, his decomposed body was found in the woods, seven miles from their Birmingham home.
Mark's killer has never been caught, but Winifred is convinced her schoolboy son was snatched and murdered by convicted killer Brian Field, weeks after his sentence for child sex offences was halved and he was released from prison.
She said: "If Field hadn't been released early, there would be no way he could have got Mark and he might be alive now. It's heartbreaking."
The programme, In the Footsteps of Killers, also takes a forensic look at the baffling case of 11-year-old Patrick "Paddy" Warren and 13-year-old David Spencer who went missing on Boxing Day, 1996, while out playing in Chelmsley Wood, Birmingham.
The bodies of the pair – known as the Milk Carton Kids after police printed pleas for information on milk containers – have never been found.
Field was jailed for life in 2001 for the rape and murder of 14-year-old Surrey schoolboy Roy Tutill, killed in 1968.
But Winifred says a series of police blunders – including the disposal of Mark’s clothes and a rope found with his body – have prevented them linking their son’s murder to Field.
"I'm convinced that evil man killed our son," said the 81-year-old mum, who still lives in Birmingham with her 80-year-old husband.
"Field is a wicked man and I want justice for Mark. The police have failed our family at every turn by not doing their job properly and that failure is something we have to live with every day of our lives."
‘Desperate’ visit to medium to find missing son
While Winifred headed out to the shops to buy Cheryl some new shoes on September 1, 1984, Mark went to pay some money into a building society account and then headed out on his bike before his usual evening paper round.
"It was just an ordinary Saturday," the heartbroken mum recalled. "If only I'd forced him to come shopping – you go over and over these things, all those 'what ifs'.”
When Mark failed to show up for the paper round by 5.30pm, the newsagent called his family to ask where he was.
In that instant, Winifred knew something catastrophic had happened to the teenager.
"Mark was such a gentle, reliable boy, there's no way he would have forgotten or not turned up so we knew straight away something terrible must have happened," said Winifred , who was working as a childminder at the time and caring for her other children Russell, 17, Philip, nine and young Cheryl.
"We'd see the lights from the police searching nearby but nothing,"
Winifred said she was "astounded" when police suggested she visit a medium as they endured the terror of not knowing where Mark was.
She said: "I was shocked, horrified. I don't believe in all that but I wanted to find my son, I was desperate, and you do all sorts of things when you're desperate, you're willing to give anything a go.
"The police drove me to see the medium, her name was Doris Stokes, and she was well known at the time. They even asked me to record what was said to see if it could give them any clues but I said no."
Body found in woods seven miles away
On November 11, some ten weeks after Mark had disappeared, a group of men hunting for rabbits found the schoolboy's body hanging from a tree in a copse off Somers Lane, Meriden, around seven miles away from the family home.
"The police called us and told my husband over the phone that they had found Mark's body," said Winifred .
"Imagine telling a parent something like that over the phone.
"My husband collapsed and we had to give him some brandy. And when we got to the police station, there was a sergeant sitting on the edge of a desk swinging his legs who said straight away 'it's suicide'.
"But we knew it wasn't suicide, Mark would never do something like that."
An inquest originally recorded an open verdict but in 1998, police reviewed the case and reclassified his death as a murder.
Rape and murder of 14-year-old
Field was living in Solihull, a few miles from the Billingtons, when he was stopped for drink-driving in 1999.
The 65-year-old had provided a routine saliva sample for the offence which flagged up as a match on a DNA database with a semen stain found on the clothing of 14-year-old Surrey schoolboy Roy Tutill, who was kidnapped, raped and murdered in 1968.
Field was jailed for life for Roy’s murder.
Tragically, police had already disposed of the clothes, rope and other evidence from Mark's murder so could not test for a match.
For almost 37 years, Winifred and Roy, have been battling for justice and they fear they will never be given the answers they crave.
A retired police officer, who offered help them investigate Mark's death found that Field had been jailed in September 1983 for a sex offence against a teenage boy, but was freed after the appeal courts slashed his sentence.
Field, now 85, has served a number of sentences for sex attacks on young boys including one four-year term in 1986 for kidnapping two youths in Oswestry who were forced to jump from his moving car in a frantic bid to escape after he'd ordered them to strip.
A spokesperson for the Ministry of Justice told The Sun that Field was released on July 2 1984, after his appeal against the sentence was successful but could not comment on which area he was released to.
West Midlands Police said in a statement: "In respect of Mark Billington, his death in 1984 was treated as suicide and the Coroner returned an open verdict. Following this in May 1998 all the information was reviewed and it was subsequently dealt with as a murder investigation.
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"This remains an open investigation subject to periodic review or review upon new intelligence or information.
"It would be inappropriate to comment on individual suspects."
In the Footsteps of Killers will be on Channel 4 at 10pm on Wednesday and available on catch up.
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