The mysterious case of the Briton missing in Malta

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Tom StewartImage source, Phyllis Stewart

When Briton Tom Stewart retired to Malta with his wife, they were expecting an idyllic life in the Mediterranean. But a year ago Tom fled from a hospital and his whereabouts remain a mystery.

The last time Phyllis Stewart saw her husband, he was climbing up an orange tree and clambering over the eight-foot high wall of a Maltese hospital.

He had no money, phone, passport or medication for his type 2 diabetes.

Since then, there have only been a couple of possible sightings of him on this tiny island, which is smaller than the Isle of Wight.

This is despite the fact that, at 6ft 5in, he will stand out in any crowd.

"At first we thought he was dead, but now we don't think he is," Phyllis says. "He's either hiding or being used to work for someone."

'I can't be here'

The 60-year-old had voluntarily entered Mount Carmel Hospital, which deals with mental health, on 21 May 2016, under the advice of a doctor, but abandoned it two days later.

"He kept asking to go for a walk in the hospital's garden," says Phyllis, 69. "Then he turned to me and said, 'this isn't helping me. I can't be here'."

Moments later, despite Phyllis's pleas, Tom was over the wall and gone.

The Maltese police's investigation into his whereabouts is still ongoing and one of the officers involved has described it as one of the force's most "mysterious" cases.

In addition to their search, Phyllis has been joined by Tom's family and friends, who have travelled around the island to look for him.

Phyllis says she is finding the situation particularly hard to deal with because Tom has never disappeared before.

"I think he's confused. He worked with a lot of Bulgarian people at a warehouse in Luton and got on well with them. There's a big community of them here and I think he might be with them."

Image source, Phyllis Stewart
Image caption,
Tom Stewart was a warehouse worker for Ocado in Luton before he retired

Phyllis, who is originally from Dundee, has been with Tom, from Luton, for 26 years, and married for the past 10. The couple came to Malta for the first time on honeymoon in 2000 and retired there 18 months ago.

She says there were no marital difficulties and that, while Tom was under stress at the time of his disappearance, he was not suicidal.

"We had problems with the building work on our flat and then I fell over and broke my shoulder in two places. Things were getting on top of him.

"He was not sleeping and had been given pills for anxiety. But he wasn't taking them."

Phyllis says staff at the psychiatric hospital described him as depressed, but she firmly disagrees.

"He went to the hospital voluntarily. He needed help, but he wasn't depressed.

"We've put up posters in lots of places. I've been on the television and in the newspapers and set up a Facebook page," she said.

"I've spoken to walking groups and asked that they keep an eye out for him. I'm offering a reward of 1,000 euros to anyone who can find him.

"I've done everything that I can to find my husband."

Image source, Phyllis Stewart
Image caption,
Phyllis Stewart says she is convinced her husband is still alive

When people take their own lives in Malta, their bodies are usually discovered, not least because there are few deserted areas on the island, which is less than 17 miles long and only nine miles wide, with a population of 420,000 - although those numbers swell considerably during the tourist season.

The two other islands in the Maltese archipelago, Gozo and Comino, are even smaller, and the bodies of those who drown are usually returned to shore by the sea.

There were two possible sightings of Tom in the first few days after his disappearance.

One of the couple's neighbours says he spoke to Tom at a bus stop and a member of the public claims he spotted him in a supermarket. But there has been nothing since then.

Phyllis now intends to target her search to specific towns to see if she can track down her husband. In the meantime, she is keeping busy by volunteering in the children's section of a library.

As she waits, she is being supported by family and "fantastic" friends in Malta.

"Tom's brother said to me that 'he'll get his head together and he'll be back'.

"This has been one of the worst times of my life. I just want my husband back."