gsdb xbz rimmer case: ‘How did my sister vanish from Fairy

Ricki turned away for just a few seconds and his little sister was taken. She would never be seen again. For five decades he has wrestled with his guilt. Now he has opened up to the BBC’s Jon Kay in a new true-crime podcast Fairy Meadow. /Short presentational grey line “People tell me it wasn’t my fault. I’ve been told that thousands of times. I know I was only seven years old, but I shouldn’t have left her.” Ricki is walking a personal pilgrimage. His waterproof trousers are splattered with mud and ripped from barbed wire fences. His boots have started to leak and his feet are covered in blisters. But still, he is walking. He was planning to hang photos of his little sister onto trees as he walked in her memory, but suddenly the idea is too painful. He puts the black and white pictures back inside his rucksack. “I can’t leave her out in the cold. I just can’t do it. I can’t bear the idea of her smiling face being out here. Not in the wind and rain.” He has brought the ribbon-tied bundles more than 16,000km (10,000 miles) – from his home in Melbourne, Australia – to northern Spain. He is trekking 200km through the chilly Cantabrian Mountains along part of the Camino pilgrim route. “I’m not a religious person. Not at all. I mean, what kind of religion would allow it to happen? She was only three years old.” Hearing his accent, other walkers ask why he has come to Europe to hike alone in the depths of winter. It must be summer back home. Wouldn’t he rather be on the beach? Ricki’s smile becomes a wrinkled frown. Now in his late 50s, he tells them he doesn’t like the beach. Cheryl – Ricki’s three-year-old sister – vanished in broad daylight from Fairy Meadow beach in New South Wales in early 1970. Photo of Cheryl GrimmerImage source, Grimmer family Image caption, Family snapshot of Cheryl on the beach The family had recently arrived in Australia having emigrated from the UK. He was only seven years old at the time, but Ricki has always blamed himself for what happened – because he was looking after Cheryl when she disappeared from the changing rooms at the top of the beach. He turned away for just a few seconds. The police have always been convinced the toddler was abducted, but nobody has ever been convicted. Ricki stops walking for a moment and looks out across the rugged Spanish landscape. “When I go to my grave, I’ll take with me what my eyes have seen and we can share those sights together. I’ve been talking to her this whole journey – my whole life.” A few yards off the main pathway, we come across an ancient stone chapel. Inside, Ricki places his bundle of pictures on the altar next to some candles. He sits in silence for a few minutes, staring at the images of his smiling little sister. When I walked that section of the Camino with Ricki in 2018, he had never really spoken to a journalist before. He had made the occasional appearance at police press conferences asking for information, but had never opened up about what had happened to Cheryl – and the impact on his life. He wanted to talk to me because, suddenly, this cold case seemed to be moving again. Cheryl with one of her brothers by a swimming pool water fountainImage source, Grimmer family Image caption, Cheryl with one of her brothers by a swimming pool in the sunshine Police in Australia had recently found a confession in an old box of evidence. It was made by a teenage boy a year after the toddler disappeared. After a new public appeal, detectives tracked down the “boy” – who was now a man in his sixties – and charged him with murder. He pleaded not guilty. Trekking through Spain was Ricki’s way of clearing his head and preparing for the trial. “I need to know. For Cheryl. For all of us. We need answers.” However, when Ricki returned to Australia, a judge ruled the confession could not be used as evidence after all. The prosecution was dropped and the former defendant, who cannot be named for legal reasons, walked free from court. “We couldn’t believe it. We never knew about the confession,” Ricki told me after the case collapsed. “For years, we didn’t even know there had been a suspect. Our lives could have been so different. Did we have to go through all this pain and suffering? I don’t want any other family to go through what our family has been through. I’m angry. Angry at myself. Angry at the world. Just angry.” The next time I see Ricki in person is in Australia, shortly after the 2019 judgment. He’s agreed to work with me on a BBC podcast series about Cheryl’s case. We talk about when he first arrived in New South Wales with his family all those years ago. “We were all so excited,” he recalls. “We’d left cold, wet, England to live in the Aussie sunshine. We couldn’t believe our luck. It was a fresh start. A new beginning. A new life.”

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