Dr Shona Lidgey is still haunted by the day, 11 years ago, when she returned home from work to find a handwritten note from her husband on the kitchen table which read ‘Gone for a walk’.
The Norfolk GP thought it a little odd, as David — also a doctor — usually sent her a text message when he went out, but those four words triggered no immediate alarm bells.
David, the son of a naval commander, had taken the day off work, saying he felt unwell and Shona assumed he must be feeling better.
The 51-year-old father-of-three often enjoyed long hikes on the Fens near their home.
But as the hours ticked by, with no sign of him, Shona started to panic.
‘I kept calling his mobile phone but he wouldn’t answer,’ recalls Shona, 55. ‘Then, after some time, I realised that I could hear it ringing upstairs in the bedroom.’
His mobile wasn’t the only thing David left behind when he walked out on June 29, 2011, never to return, with just the clothes on his back.
‘He left his car, passport, wallet, all his credit cards, even the loose change in his pockets. All he took were his house keys.’
On the floor lay his Leatherman tool — a treasured gift from Shona which he always carried. His Tag Heuer watch, also a present from his wife, lay discarded on a bedside table.
‘It felt like a very personal message to me, that he was leaving and wasn’t coming back,’ she says. ‘It was as if he’d just shed a life he didn’t want any more.’
To this day, Dr David Lidgey’s disappearance not only remains a perplexing mystery but an agonizing open wound for his wife and the three children he left behind.
Despite poster appeals and extensive police searches, Shona still has no idea where he went, what happened to him, or even if he is alive or dead.
Dr David Lidgey (left) disappeared leaving behind his wife Shona and three children Ruth (right), Arthur (bottom left) and Tom (centre)
‘I don’t know if it was David or some crank, but in my heart I do feel that David is still alive’
‘How can someone just disappear and leave absolutely no trace?’ she asks, as confused now as she was 11 years ago.
Shona goes on to reveal a further twist to this heart-breaking mystery.
In 2018 — seven years after David had gone missing — she received disturbing text messages, out of the blue, from someone claiming to be him.
Promising ‘you will see me again soon’, this person then vanished a second time, leaving the family distraught.
Police were unable to establish any identity; only that the messages had been sent from the London area. The mobile number is no longer in service.
‘I don’t know if it was David or some crank, but in my heart I do feel that David is still alive,’ says Shona, whose husband would be 62 now.
‘If not from David, then who would be cruel enough to send me messages claiming to be him? I can’t think of anyone who would want to hurt us that much.’
This is the first time Shona has spoken publicly since an emotional appeal, ten years ago, for David to come home.
She is today joined by children Ruth, 26, and Arthur, 24, who were teenagers when their father went missing. They have never talked before. Youngest Tom, 19, is still processing his feelings.
Like their mother, Ruth and Arthur feel no anger or bitterness towards their father, only sympathy for whatever mental turmoil may have driven him to desert them.
But they’d like the mystery solved — no matter how painful that might turn out to be.
‘For a long time, I avoided even thinking about it, but I now feel I need to know what has happened to my father,’ says Ruth, who works in university admissions.
‘When someone dies, you can grieve and move on, but when someone you love goes missing there is nothing but uncertainty, even though life carries on.
‘If he’s alive, I would like to have him back in our lives in some way, no matter how difficult that might be for all of us.’
Arthur, a personal trainer and nutritionist, agrees that he, too, needs ‘closure’. He, however, believes his father is probably dead.
‘I can’t see how a person can live for so long, completely off radar, without leaving any trace,’ he says. ‘But I would like some kind of resolution.’
Despite all the tears and heartache of the past 11 years, Shona still cherishes the many happy memories she shared with David before their family life came to an abrupt end — turning her, overnight, into a single parent.
Married in 1995, after meeting at a GP training conference, she remembers the joy on his face when she announced each of her pregnancies, the tears of happiness at the births of their children.
He was a good husband and father, she says, adding: ‘I loved him totally.’
Despite his outgoing, confident persona, David — for as long Shona knew him — had a tendency towards episodes of depression, however.
As a young doctor, he had been badly affected by the suicide of his best friend. The deaths of both his parents, very close together in 2001, also devastated him.
There were two further traumatic incidents when they were both working as GPs in South-East London.
On one occasion, David had to defend a mother and child from a deranged man who burst into his surgery armed with a knife. Another time he was attacked with a hammer in a road-rage incident.
Shaken, David became obsessed with moving to the countryside which he felt would be a safer environment. However, he came to bitterly regret the move to Norfolk when their youngest, Tom, was four.
While Shona fell in love with their new life and was soon offered a GP partnership, David struggled to find a permanent position. He felt dissatisfied with locum work and isolated.
‘It was a really difficult time. David was very angry and bitter and I felt him withdrawing from the family. He really wasn’t talking to me at all,’ says Shona.
‘He spoke constantly of moving again, but the children were settled in new schools and we couldn’t afford to go back to London.’
Shona became increasingly worried about his worsening mental health, but David refused to seek help. He angrily rejected her encouragement to see a psychiatrist, prescribing himself antidepressants instead.
Nine months before he went missing, David — Shona would much later discover — had secretly approached a former colleague in London to ask for a reference so he could apply for a job in Australia.
‘Are Shona and the kids going with you?’ she’d asked. ‘No,’ he replied. ‘I’m going by myself. It’s my sanity or my family.’
Six weeks before he went missing there was another glimpse of the nightmare which lay ahead.
During a row over something trivial, David got so upset he suddenly jumped in the car and took off.
‘He wouldn’t answer his phone or write a text and the children were really upset,’ says Shona, who was so fearful for his mental state she called the police.
David’s car was captured on police cameras on the M20, and he was later traced by officers to a hotel.
Shona is now officially a widow but believes David may still be alive. She said he struggled with his mental health prior to his disappearance
At the time of his disappearance in 2011 Shona (pictured) and David had a petty row over taking their children to a theme park
‘David was very apologetic when he came back the next morning,’ she says. ‘He told me he realised how silly it had been, and promised it would never happen again.’
The morning of June 29, 2011 started with another petty row, this time over Shona’s plans to take the children to Alton Towers on a weekend when David was working.
David hated theme parks, so she was surprised by how upset and angry he was. But he seemed fine as she left for work and he rounded up the children for the school run.
Arthur recalls: ‘In the car my father kept apologising to us, saying how sorry he was for upsetting us by leaving a few weeks earlier.
‘He told us how much he loved us. That was the last thing we ever heard him say.’
After dropping off the children, David sent Shona a text, saying he felt unwell and was taking the day off. She never heard from him again.
‘That row will haunt me for ever, even though — rationally — I know that such a small argument can’t have made someone do such a ridiculous thing,’ says Shona.
‘I don’t think it caused him to leave, but it may have caused him to think: ‘I’m going to do it now.’ I feel sure it was planned.’
Shona is convinced he did not commit suicide. His ‘sense of self-preservation was too strong,’ she says.
No body has ever been found. Nor does she think there was another woman, though someone may have shielded him. There were a number of plausible sightings after David went missing.
A man, matching his description, was seen at 5am in a road in Leicester where David used to live as a medical student. He called up at a window, searching for his former landlord.
There was another sighting at a football match in the city. With the support of the charity Missing People, the family put adverts in newspapers and messages in classified ads.
They set up a dedicated phone line and travelled the country to distribute posters and follow leads, no matter how random.
‘I was so desperate I wanted to climb up Big Ben and shout ‘Where’s David? How do I find him?’ ‘ says Shona.
‘It was horrendous. We missed him so much. None of us will ever fully recover from it. It has maimed us in a way.’
After 12 months of searching, Shona’s whole focus altered when Arthur fell dangerously ill.
Traumatised by the loss of his father, his weight had plummeted so rapidly it was putting a strain on his heart. He was admitted to hospital, weighing just 6st 3lb.
He then spent months in a residential eating disorders unit in Cambridge.
‘I felt that I just couldn’t search for David any more because he was an adult and Arthur was a child and needed me more,’ says Shona, who adds that family counselling helped them let go of their exhausting quest.
‘Ruth was in the middle of her GCSEs and also suffering. It was just dreadful and I felt completely distressed and also angry. I decided he’d have to come and find us. We stopped looking.’
Shona also had to work to support the children and feels fortunate she had a career which provided normality amid the chaos.
The marital home was in joint names so she couldn’t sell it, nor could she afford it on one salary. She had to borrow heavily to keep a roof over their heads.
Almost every night David returned to her in dreams, but as time passed she slowly gave up hope of seeing him again.
Shona had to wait seven years to apply to the High Court for David to be legally declared missing presumed dead, to enable her to sell the house and clear their debts.
She believes it is no coincidence that the disturbing text messages started arriving at that time.
The first was sent to her ex-directory landline, which — eerily translated in a robotic voice — said ‘I have just been away for a while, I am coming home on a plane, should be with you soon. Please have a newspaper for me.’
‘I thought ‘Who is that?’ so I texted the number and we had a long text dialogue, and this person kept insisting it was David and I kept disbelieving that it was, asking for proof,’ she recalls.
‘He’d say things like: ‘I have been in India for a long time, in Australia, and I haven’t got a smartphone and I can’t send a picture.’
Do you know where David Lidgey is?
If you have information, contact:
- missingpeople.org uk/ help-us-find/david-lidgey-11-002631
When I tried to call the number no one answered.’ The same person texted her elder son, saying: ‘Is that you, Arthur? I don’t want to cause you anguish but you will be seeing me soon. DL.’
‘It was very upsetting. I contacted the police because this person said some personal things which made me think it could be David, and his writing style was very similar, and how could this person have our numbers?’ says Shona.
‘The police were incredibly helpful, but they were unable to find out who it was. Then, one day, when I tried to send a message, the line was out of service, so we’ll never know.’
The High Court hearing went ahead and after examining all the evidence, Dr David Lidgey was legally declared dead and Shona’s marriage dissolved. Today, she is officially a widow.
Two years ago she moved to a cottage with youngest son, Tom, after the family home was sold.
Ruth lives in a nearby city with her partner, while Arthur — now fully recovered — works in London.
All four are incredibly close. The children clearly adore their mother and describe her strength as ‘amazing’.
Shona now has a new partner, a carpenter who lives in a nearby village, but David’s absence still casts a long shadow.
Every year, the family meets to mark the anniversary of his disappearance but Shona no longer hopes for his return.
‘It would be enough for me just to know that David is alive and happy,’ she says.
‘I’d like him to know that he is still loved by us. I may no longer love him as a wife — there’s been too much pain and heartache for that — but I will always love him as the father of our children.’