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"It wasn't his time": Family of Kane Johnson speaks of pain amid desperate search for answers

PUBLISHED: 22:43 14 July 2019 | UPDATED: 22:43 14 July 2019

Front: Kane's mother Hayley Johnson holds a portrait of her son. Behind: Kane's family including his grandparents, siblings Paris, Kay and Achiah, aunts, cousins and nephew. Picture: Polly Hancock.

Front: Kane's mother Hayley Johnson holds a portrait of her son. Behind: Kane's family including his grandparents, siblings Paris, Kay and Achiah, aunts, cousins and nephew. Picture: Polly Hancock.

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Three months ago the body of a Dagenham teenager was found floating in the Thames. How he got there remains a mystery. Today, his family speak out for the first time.

Kane on his seventh birthday with mum Hayley Johnson. Picture: Hayley JohnsonKane on his seventh birthday with mum Hayley Johnson. Picture: Hayley Johnson

On the night of Wednesday, April 10, Kane Johnson left his house in Becontree Avenue ahead of what looked to be an ordinary night out.

The 17-year-old, according to his family, was in a "good mood". He spent an hour styling his hair and dressed in his favourite Fils tracksuit and Tommy Hilfiger jacket, shrugging off a plea to clean his room and joking with his stepfather on his way out the door.

There was nothing about that night, his family said, to suggest it was the last time they would see him alive.

When Kane did not come home in the days that followed, they, along with friends and neighbours began a frantic 11-day search that came to an abrupt end when his body was discovered in the Thames on Easter Sunday.

Speaking to the Post this week, his devastated family told of how they are now on a search of a different kind: for answers about what happened to Kane, and exactly how it was that he ended up in the water, 13 miles away from home.

Mum Hayley Johnson, 43, has hardly slept since the loss of her youngest son, while his elder sister Parris, 26, went into early induced labour due to the stress.

Kane, who was studying drama at Redbridge College, in his late teens. Picture: Hayley JohnsonKane, who was studying drama at Redbridge College, in his late teens. Picture: Hayley Johnson

None of them can bear to watch the opening sequence of BBC London News, in which a camera pans over the river where Kane was found between Lambeth Bridge and Vauxhall Bridge on April 21.

Last week police issued a fresh appeal for information on Kane's movements after he left the house, which has been echoed by his family.

Mum Hayley said: "We are desperate for information. For us, the timeline ends at the end of the road, but that's not where Kane's life ended. I need to know what happened to my son."

Kane was born in Barking and Dagenham and attended Northbury Primary School and Eastbury Community School before enrolling at Redbridge College to study drama.

His burgeoning passion for theatre had seen him perform at local venues such as the Kenneth More Theatre in Ilford and further afield at the Barbican, and his family had planned to find him an agent after his 18th birthday.

They said Kane was confident and not shy about his eclectic tastes: a huge Spiderman fan who listened to the Stranglers and the Eagles, and who often wore mismatched clothes and maintained a small, close circle of friends.

Three months after Kane's body was found his family say they are no closer to understanding what happened to himPicture: Polly HancockThree months after Kane's body was found his family say they are no closer to understanding what happened to himPicture: Polly Hancock

"His favourite phrase was 'If you don't like it, don't look'," his sister said. "He wasn't an attention seeker. He was unique, and very comfortable in his own skin."

In recent months, they said, he had become concentrated on his own health and fitness, exercising daily and admonishing family members for smoking.

Miss Johnson added: "He was very different to all of us, quiet and unassuming. For someone from a big family he didn't like loud noises and shouting. He was a creature of habit, and that was why it was strange when he went missing."

On the night of April 10, Kane left home at about 11pm. He was seen on CCTV outside Longbridge Food and Wine on Longbridge Road and is thought to have boarded a Route N15 bus at 12:37am, heading for central London. From there, he disappeared.

It took around three days, his family said, for panic to set in. When Kane failed even to reappear on April 15, his 18th birthday, his mother called the police.

Over the course of the next week the search took the family across London. They even drove to Cambridge after a tip-off.

Kane did not come home for his 18th birthday on April 15. Picture: Hayley JohnsonKane did not come home for his 18th birthday on April 15. Picture: Hayley Johnson

Miss Johnson said: "I was petrified to miss a call. I didn't sleep and had a breakdown; I could feel my nerves trying to burst out of my skin.

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"I was calling him, texting him, and there was nothing. We put up posters all around the area - I couldn't even look at the words 'Missing' next to my son's face."

On April 21, the family received a visit from police to tell them a body matching Kane's description had been found.

The house, they said, "erupted". "I had a panic attack and couldn't breathe," Miss Johnson said. "My legs went to jelly."

Worse, as it was the Bank Holiday weekend, the family could not go to see Kane's body for a further 48 hours.

A portrait of Kane Johnson. Picture: Polly HancockA portrait of Kane Johnson. Picture: Polly Hancock

Eventually, they were allowed to visit Westminster Public Morgue on the Tuesday.

Miss Johnson said: "When I looked at him, he didn't look like Kane.

"It was shocking and it will be traumatic for the rest of my life. But I had a strange sense of relief come over me. I thought 'Oh son, there you are'."

Kane's funeral was held on Sunday, June 7 at Forest Park Crematorium in Hainault.

Three long months now have passed since Kane's body was found, and the death is being treated as unexplained. An inquest is now due to take place in December.

Police are still making enquiries but so far, his family said, they have been left with more questions than answers.

Miss Johnson said: "I can't believe this has happened to me. But I can't just sit here and cry. We need closure, and justice for Kane.

"None of it makes sense. There are missing parts to the puzzle and somebody must have seen him. You don't do your hair for an hour and put on your best clothes to turn up eleven days later in the water."

"Death happens, but not like this. It wasn't his time."

The police appeal

Last week police issued a fresh appeal for information on Kane's movements after he left home on April 10.

Officers released CCTV showing Kane outside the shops in Longbridge Road, where he spoke to a man for a short time before, police believe, boarding an N15 bus heading towards central London.

The man is described as white, wearing grey joggers with a black stripe, a white t-shirt and black trainers.

Kane left home wearing a black Ralph Lauren t-shirt, black Fila sweatshirt, black Tommy Hilfiger jacket, grey shorts, black Fila tracksuit bottoms and black Nike trainers with beige soles.

Det Sgt Fiona Robinson said: "We have blanks in our timeline between Kane being seen in the CCTV footage at Longbridge Road and his body being recovered.

"I believe that people may be able to help fill in those blanks, which would, at the very least, bring a measure of comfort to Kane's family."

Anyone with information about the days leading up to the death of Kane is being asked to call Det Sgt Robinson on 07741 686 981 or email Fiona.Robinson@met.police.uk.

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