Published: 00:01, 26 April 2017
As the 16th anniversary of his daughter’s disappearance approaches, dad Phil Kerton still has no idea whether the trainee nurse is dead or alive.
But he has kept the same mobile phone number for nearly two decades, just in case she calls.
Louise Kerton was travelling home from Germany in July 2001, after staying with fiancé Peter Simon’s family, when she disappeared.
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The last person to reportedly see Louise alive was her future mother-in-law Ramana Simon, who claimed she dropped the 24-year-old at Aachen railway station so she could catch a train to Ostend, Belgium, and get a ferry home.
Mrs Simon did not watch Louise board the train and no trace of her was found despite investigations by police in England, Germany, and Belgium.
VIDEO: Phil Kerton desperately wants to know the whereabouts of his daughter
Now 72 and still living in the New Ash Green home Louise spent much of her childhood in, Mr Kerton has spoken about the affect the ongoing mystery surrounding his daughter’s disappearance is still having on his family.
He said: “It affects various members of the family, on and off, very badly. It’s like bereavement in many ways.
“You go through all these stages of grieving but never get to the end of it.
“I don’t sit here being miserable, thinking about Louise all day every day, but I do think of her every day.
“I think ‘why didn’t you talk to us about your problems instead of running off?’
“Or else I blame myself – I should have done more, I should have realised what was happening.”
Family and friends went to Germany and Belgium “countless times” to speak with investigators and journalists and publicise Louise’s disappearance.
The family also met government ministers and hired private detectives.
But they stopped the trips just before the two-year anniversary of Louise’s disappearance because of the psychological affect it was having on some of her family
To add to their heartbreak, Louise’s mum, Mr Kerton’s wife Kath, died of stomach cancer in 2010.
Mr Kerton said: “It was very unexpected. We knew it was serious but we had no concept the cancer was terminal.
“It is very upsetting that Kath died without knowing what happened to Louise.”
When asked whether he has formed an opinion over the years about what happened to his daughter, who would now be 40, Mr Kerton replied: “She could have run away from the Simons’ house and fallen into one of the gravel pits in the surrounding area.
“She could have been abducted, as there were numerous cases of young women being abducted, tortured and killed by a forester in the area Louise was last seen in.
“Or she could have got on the train, got chatting to someone who persuaded her to go somewhere with them and she couldn’t get back to Britain for whatever reason.
“She was very trusting and a bit naive. The possibilities are all open. I’ve kept the same mobile phone number in case she rings me up.”
The forester Mr Kerton refers to was serial killer Michel Fourniret, nicknamed the Ogre of Ardennes, who was jailed for life for raping and murdering nine girls between 1987 and 2001 and is suspected of killing more.
He was investigated but never charged in connection to Louise’s disappearance.
Even after 16 years with no answers, Mr Kerton refuses to believe his daughter would have vanished intentionally because she had seen the affect losing a child has on parents.
She went to school with Lucie Blackman, who was kidnapped and murdered while working as a bar hostess in Tokyo in 2000.
Mr Kerton said his daughter, who went to her former classmate’s funeral, “knew what having a missing daughter did to people”.
He said: “That’s why I can never believe she’d voluntarily go missing herself, and her school friends felt the same about her.”
Speaking directly to Louise or anyone who knows anything about her disappearance, he added: “Please, just get in touch and let us know you’re alive and well.
“If anybody else reading this has heard anything about her disappearance or has seen her, please get in touch with us or Kent Police.”
Louise was born two months early and spent six weeks in the premature baby unit at Northern General Hospital, Sheffield, close to where the family lived at the time.
She was monitored by medical professionals until she was four or five years old but seemed to have no lasting effects.
In some ways she was very different to her three sisters Angela, Francesca and Marie and her brother Simon, who now lives in Dartford.
“Louise was quite dyslexic,” Mr Kerton said.
“In contrast to her siblings who were all keen on, and good at, science subjects she was artistic.
“She went to St Hilary’s School in Sevenoaks, which became Walthamstow Hall in her last year or two.
"You go through all these stages of grieving but never get to the end of it" - Phil Kerton
"She got on extremely well there but having got her GCSEs she decided to go onto Dartford Grammar School for Girls, where her older sisters had attended.
“She was very keen on ceramics and the chap in charge of arts there had her trying all sorts of media.
“She had been making really large pieces but the kilns there were small so she had to make lots of smaller pieces and put them together.”
Louise was in her late teens when she met Peter Simon, who was 14 years her senior, at Cascades Leisure Centre, near Gravesend.
At first the Kertons thought their daughter’s boyfriend was “a steadying influence” but “out of the blue he persuaded her she could go and rent a room from his mother in Broadstairs and study art at a college in Thanet,” her dad said.
Louise dropped out of school but rather than continuing her studies at college she ended up working as a waitress, among other jobs, before eventually deciding to train as a nurse, which her dad was pleased about as she was “a very caring person”.
She studied at Christ Church University College, as it was then, and did placements at the Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother Hospital (QEQM) in Margate.
After a late night shift, while waiting for the bus to take her back to Broadstairs, Louise would always call her dad for a chat.
He said: “Just as I was going to bed the phone would ring.
“She’d say: ‘It’s Louise, I’m waiting for the bus.’ I’d have to talk to her for the next 45 minutes as she had nothing to do.”
The course was going well until she started a placement where she “didn’t have a good relationship” with the person supervising her and was told she was going to fail the course.
As Louise faced the prospect of having to repeat a year of her nursing course, her fiancé’s mother Ramana Simon revealed the family was buying a house “in the middle of nowhere” in Germany’s Strassfeld region, near Aachen, and invited her over to “get away from it all”, Mr Kerton said.
Five weeks after Louise set off for Germany, Mr and Mrs Kerton and their youngest child Marie were on holiday when eldest sibling Francesca, who was staying at her parents’ home, received a frantic phone call from Peter.
He was at the Port of Dover waiting for his fiancée but she never got off the boat.
He sounded in a “terrible state”, the Kerton family said, but was adamant they should not inform the police.
Peter had returned to the UK two days before his fiancée, reportedly to wait for a delivery to arrive at his mother’s Broadstairs house.
Mrs Simons had phoned and told him when to meet Louise because no one other than her was allowed to use her house phone, Mr Kerton said.
“If Louise was coming back anyway, two days later, why didn’t she come with him?” her father still wonders.
He added: “They said to police later that she’d persuaded Louise to give up the idea of a career in nursing and stay in Germany.
"Then Louise changed her mind and made a scene so she took her to the station.”
Mrs Simon was also reluctant to report Louise’s disappearance to police and reportedly asked the Kertons: “Why are you making all this fuss? “You’ll frighten her away.”
German police closed the investigation 10 years after Louise went missing, concluding there was nothing suspicious about her disappearance.
Speaking this week, Kent Police said: “In 2001, Louise Kerton had been staying in Aachen, Germany, and failed to return to her family when expected home.
“The German authorities asked Kent Police to make a number of enquiries, however, on their completion there were no signs that Louise had travelled back to England.
“German police initially treated Louise’s disappearance as a missing person investigation however, the enquiries made by Kent Police identified concerns that were sufficient to request that it be raised to a criminal investigation.
“Kent Police has not been made aware of any developments in the investigation by the German authorities.
“The matter is not the subject of an ongoing investigation by Kent Police however anyone who has new information, or can help with this inquiry, can contact Kent Police on 101 or call Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800 555 111 and the information will be shared with the German authorities.”