Get all your news in one place.
100’s of premium titles.
One app.
Start reading
Nottingham Post
Nottingham Post
Rebecca Sherdley

Heartbreak of mum whose son's body was recovered from the River Trent

The last message Robert Keetley sent to his beloved mum was a reflection of just how unbreakable their mother and son bond was. She remembers his words well. They have stayed with her each day for the past 15 years. Her "Bobby" had said: "If raindrops were kisses, I would send you a shower".

That was the last time Jacqueline Mirfin spoke to her son. The 37-year-old, of Royston Close, The Meadows, was going out that night as he normally would. It was Saturday, April 28, 2007, and he headed to The New Foresters, St Ann's Street, Nottingham's oldest gay bar.

Jacque, as she prefers to be called, says her son often went out on his own and would then walk back from Nottingham city centre, along the River Trent, to where he lived in The Meadows. But he never made it home. He disappeared. "He used to phone me every single day", remembers Jacque, a retired grandmother of two. "On the Sunday, when he did not phone me, I said to my husband, 'this is so strange, he hasn't rung me'".

Her husband, Bobby's step-father who died six years ago, thought maybe Bobby had had one too many. But Jacque still thought it was strange as her son was not a big drinker.

It emerged Bobby had left the New Foresters pub at 2.40am on Sunday, April 29, and was last seen on CCTV walking along Huntingdon Street, in the city centre. Jacque told Nottinghamshire Live that four days before Bobby was found, she felt she needed to go to the River Trent. There was something drawing her to the river and she had a feeling she had to go there.

His body was recovered from the River Trent

The tragic news Bobby's body had been recovered from the Trent came on May 8 of that year. Her husband, Barry, step-dad to the two brothers, had gone to pick up Bobby's brother Alan, who had suffered an accident at work. By then Alan's father, John Keetley, had told Alan that Bobby had been found.

As they returned home, Jacque, who now lives in Chesterfield, just knew from her husband's face that Bobby had been found. "I looked at my husband's face and to Alan," she said. "I broke down in his arms and I felt terrible".

The family had to face the numbing process of organising a funeral. Because of the police investigation, they waited until July 5 before they said one final goodbye. There has never been closure for them. Jacque still feels closest to Bobby when she goes to the Trent. "That is where his spirit went," she says.

Over the years there have been police appeals for information but, after Bobby's body was found near Trent Bridge, how exactly he came to die remains a mystery. An inquest ruled it was unlikely his death was suicide or an accident.

"The coroner did say unless anyone comes forward, you never know what's happened," explains Jacque. "Bobby's stuff was stolen from him; I bought him a Motorola phone at the time, an Armani watch that Christmas, and a gold pendant with the initial "R" on", and none of those were found".

New Foresters public house in Nottingham City Centre. (Nottingham Post)

Three people were arrested

Police believe Nottingham-born Bobby, a production worker at Riverside Bakery, in The Meadows, was the victim of a robbery and was either forced into the Trent either by the robbers, or went into the river when he tried to flee them. Three people were arrested in February 2008 in connection with his death, but all were released.

Jacque, 72, said there was no evidence good swimmer Bobby, who would have turned 52 in March this year, fell or jumped. But, whatever happened, she holds on to the lovely memories she has of her second-born son. Of how he was loved by everybody.

"He was my baby," she says. "He was so friendly. He was wary about people because he was gay. I have never known a person to meet him who didn't love him. Anybody who met him said his smile would light up a room".

Key dates are difficult for her - like Mother's Day, every anniversary, every Christmas. They spent Christmases together laughing non-stop. Now she never gives up hope the mystery behind his death, on the 15th anniversary this year, will become clearer. Someone may know something or may have lived with a terrible secret all that time. Most of all his mum wants people to remember her son, who had hundreds of friends in Nottingham.

"He will never be forgotten," she says. Every night she says "good night" to him and every morning she says "good morning". Bobby's photograph is in her conservatory when she sits and reads her newspaper. Sometimes she speaks out loud to him. She will never let his memory fade.

His brother's story

Alan, 53, now of Middlesbrough, who works for a digital network business, spoke to his brother on the Saturday morning. Alan had injured his knee at work on a building site.

In pain, Alan told his brother he would speak to him later. But the next contact was from Bobby's partner to check if Alan had heard from his brother. He had not. On the Sunday he reported his brother missing to police.

Ten days later Bobby was found, leaving Alan "devastated". "Not a day goes by that I don't think about him. It's really hard. You never get over it. It is not just my life, it is the family's".

His father, John Keetley, is an ex-miner, a "man's man", says Alan. "It absolutely broke him. He can't even look at photos of him now".

Of Bobby, Alan had a good relationship with him and they never argued. "He was the only person who would tell me straight. He never minced his words. We went out once a month.

"He was quite a strong lad. He went to the gym. I think what happened was just random; just picked him out because he was alone".

His brother was a quiet person deep down, unless he was with people he trusted and loved.

"He wasn’t one for starting any trouble or dramas, if ever there was any trouble, he would rather walk away than get involved. With friends and family he was bubbly and outgoing and loved to have a good laugh.

"With strangers he would be very quiet and not one for starting conversations. From the night he disappeared to the morning he was found, our family went to hell and back and we wouldn’t wish what we have been through on anybody.

"For someone to go out for a drink with friends and never return home should never happen, but we sincerely hope that one day someone that knows what happened on that night, will have a conscience and think what they would want from the public, if something like this happened to someone they loved!

"My dad ( John Keetley ) was the first of our family to know that Bobby had been found when he went to The Meadows police station to get any information on news, and that is a phone call I will never forget for the rest of my life, and then for me to have to inform the rest of the family of the sad news was heartbreaking.

"We all think about Bobby everyday and visit his grave whenever we can, taking my dad with us. To see a man’s man crumble like he does at that grave is torture for me to see but I live in hope that one day justice will be done for my brother. R.I.P Bobby".

"We remain determined to get justice for Robert and his family"

Detective Chief Inspector Clare Dean, of Nottinghamshire Police, said: “In cases where people have lost their lives our end goal is always to get justice for them and their families – to understand exactly how they died and to ensure that the people responsible are punished. We know this does little to ease the pain of losing a loved one in violent circumstances, but it can at least allow families some degree of closure about what happened.

“Like all unsolved crimes of this nature, Robert’s tragic and untimely death is something that is reviewed periodically to see if the passing of time has brought any new evidence to light or helped to make further sense of the evidence we already have. We remain determined to get justice for Robert and his family, and would urge anyone who has any information about what happened to contact us on 101 or via Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111.

“Even the smallest piece of information could prove to be the vital clue we need to finally get justice for him and his family.”

To read all the biggest and best stories first sign up to read our newsletters here.

Sign up to read this article
Read news from 100’s of titles, curated specifically for you.
Already a member? Sign in here
Related Stories
Top stories on inkl right now
One subscription that gives you access to news from hundreds of sites
Already a member? Sign in here
Our Picks
Fourteen days free
Download the app
One app. One membership.
100+ trusted global sources.