Mother of missing backpacker: “No mum should go through this”

Bradford Telegraph and Argus: SEARCH: Gareth Huntley is missing in the Malaysian jungle SEARCH: Gareth Huntley is missing in the Malaysian jungle

The mother of a backpacker missing in the Malaysian jungle said the fear over his safety is something she “wouldn’t wish any mother to go through”.

Janet Southwell was speaking after she arrived in the country yesterday to be nearby when Gareth Huntley is found.

Her comments came as a determined group of friends and family highlighted his plight and called on Bradford people to join a social media campaign running as part of the hunt for the 34-year-old.

Mr Huntley, a former pupil of Woodhouse Grove School in Apperley Bridge, has not been seen since he started a trek to a waterfall in Tioman Island, off the south-eastern coast of the country’s mainland, last Tuesday morning.

Initial frustrations that the search was slow to start have given way to relief after Defence Secretary Philip Hammond was assured by Malaysian authorities that “all available search assets” are being used to try to find Mr Huntley.

Mrs Southwell, of Bradford, said: “We’re trying to stay positive while the search intensifies. I need to offer a huge collective hug to everyone who has supported the campaign to #findgareth and particularly to the media and the British and Malaysian governments who have been so supportive.

“This is an incredibly tense and stressful time that I wouldn’t wish any mother to go through. It is vital that the intense jungle search continues and we hope everyone can pray with us for Gareth’s safe return.”

In a brief call to her son Mark, who lives in Leeds, she said she was at base camp, had spoken to officials and there were 103 people searching, with more potentially on the way, plus multiple helicopters and speedboats.

A unit of commandos from the Malaysian army is searching harder-to-reach areas of dense forest.

Mark Huntley said the family was “getting more and more anxious as time goes on”, but he was holding out hope that his brother was still alive and injured, needing help.

The terrain is difficult to search and rain has not helped, but Mr Huntley is described as capable and was not venturing out of his comfort zone with the three-hour trek.

“He’s caring, intelligent, resourceful – he’s a good guy,” his brother said.

“[Malaysian] locals had only known him for a few days, but they’ve really rallied behind him as well which, to me, is a sign of the character that he has.

“He’s managed to make such good friends in such a short period of time.”

Mr Huntley, who now lives in Hackney, east London, is on a sabbatical from his job as an accountant in the capital.

Friends and family in Yorkshire and London have joined forces to highlight his plight across the world.

Close friend Sophie Wilson said a social media drive had led to a huge amount of support with more than 7,400 people backing a Facebook page and 550,000 Twitter mentions using the hashtag #findgareth.

“It would be great if people in Bradford were to get behind that too,” the 32-year-old said.

She said Mr Huntley was a “fantastic guy” who was “highly intelligent and very generous and giving.”

Miss Wilson found out her friend was missing on Friday afternoon.

“My initial reaction was shock and horror,” she said.

“I quickly shifted into action because time was ticking and we were aware that SCA hadn’t even issued him with a crime number.”

She said the initial “paltry” search was “terribly upsetting and shocking.”

Mr Huntley had been working at the Juara Turtle Project.

Prime Minister David Cameron yesterday spoke to Malaysia’s prime minister, Najib Razak.

A Number 10 spokesman said: “The PM thanked prime minister Najib for the extensive efforts of the Malaysian authorities over the past few days and said that the UK was considering what more it could do to help if required.”

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