The man who vanished

Published June 2005

Somewhere in some dark corner of this country, there is an impoverished and homeless man who does not know that he has been given a bank account full of cash which could change his life.

Two months ago, the Guardian carried the story of Allan Seymour, a 53-year-old Scot, a sane, sober, drug-free man who had ended up in court for theft simply because he was trapped in poverty – unable to find regular work because he had no permanent address, unable to get a permanent address because he had no regular work to pay the deposit on a rented room.

Mr Seymour estimated that he needed just £400 to break free of this snare. Now, Guardian readers have sent in a total of more than £2,000 to help him. The money is sitting in an account in his name, but Mr Seymour has no phone and no address. He has vanished back into his hidden world.

We have been out looking for Mr Seymour. He told us he sometimes sleeps in Green Park, behind the Ritz Hotel in central London. At one o’clock in the morning, the park was dense with shadows and apparently lifeless and yet it turned out to be the stage for a strange soundless ritual as the shapes of men appeared between the trees and merged and clutched and moved apart. On a bench in the centre of the park, two men snogged like school kids. A police car drifted slowly down one side of the park and, without a sound, the shapes of the men all drifted through the trees away from the headlights.

On one of the benches on the northern edge, a young man sat in the dim light of a Picadilly street lamp with a carton of fruit juice and a syringe which he slipped gracefully into his arm. Here and there there were sleeping figures. But there was no sign of Mr Seymour.

We went to Westminster, where he had told us he sometimes sleeps in the quieter doorways of the Georgian terraces and political offices, but there was no sign of him on the streets nor in the Salvation Army hostel on Great Peter Street and certainly not in the women’s hostel around the corner.

Since then we have tried to phone every homeless hostel in central London. A deputy team leader at Thames Reach Bondway searched their records and found they had picked him up early last year and taken him to the Salvation Army hostel in Westminster, but that was the last trace. The people at St Mungo’s checked their own records and then passed his name through the database that lists all the hostel residents in London, but there was no sign of him at all.

He had told us he was still in touch with his mother, back in Scotland. We dug out his birth certificate and found her name is Jean Seymour and that, all those years ago, she was living in Logans Road, Motherwell. The road is still there but so far we have not found her in the road or anywhere elese in Motherwell.

The Guardian story described how Mr Seymour would find temporary work as a chef and earn just enough to afford food and a bed-and-breakfast for as long the job lasted. His last work was at Earl’s Court exhibition centre, he told us, but Leith’s who run the catering there say they have no record of him. The story explained that he had had no social security for several years because he lacked the necessary paperwork and so, when he had no work, he sometimes fell back on stealing DVDs from stores. He has been caught twice in the last 12 months – in Oxford and in London. We traced the two lawyers but they have lost touch with him.

For a moment, we thought we had found him when the London magistrates court said they had an address, but it was only the privatised probation hostel in east London which had agreed to give him a bed while he was on bail and then pushed him back out on to the streets as soon as his case was over.

Mr Seymour is tall and slim with long, straight black hair which he wears tied back, so that he looks a little like the former Arsenal and England goalkeeper David Seaman. He may still be in London, he may have drifted far away but, unless somebody finds him and steers him towards the Guardian, he has no way of knowing that the future could be different. When we spoke to him earlier in the year, he said he expected little from life. “I was brought up in hard places,” he said. “Life is life. I just take it as it comes.”

Additional Research: Roxanne Escobales

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