Hopes for missing Fergus McInnes ‘dwindling’

Fergus McInnes. Picture: PA
Fergus McInnes. Picture: PA
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The sister of a Scots scientist who disappeared in Switzerland two months ago said today her hope of finding him alive is “dwindling”.

Lorna McInnes, 41, saw her brother Fergus McInnes shortly before he flew to Switzerland on September 9 to attend a conference and said he seemed “upbeat”.

The ‘talking computers’ wizard was last seen on CCTV at Geneva Airport buying a return train ticket for the Alpine town of Martigny 50 miles to the west.

But Mr McInnes, who works at Edinburgh University, failed to turn up at the conference at the Idiap Research Institute in Martigny, check into his hotel or board his return flight to the Scottish capital.

Now, after eight weeks with no contact from or new sightings of her brother, Ms McInnes said she thinks it is “almost impossible” he is alive and well.

She said: “In my last update, on 15 October, I offered three answers to the question about where Fergus might be on the following day, 16 October, which was his 52nd birthday.

“He might have been in Switzerland or elsewhere, alive and aware of the significance of the date. Or, he might have been alive but due to some sort of mental malfunctioning, not aware of the date. Lastly, and most reluctantly, I noted that his life may have ended some time before his 52nd birthday.

“Now, nearly three weeks since his birthday, the first option seems almost impossible. If he was compos mentis enough to appreciate who he was, and recognise that people would be wishing him a happy birthday the next day, I can’t believe he would deliberately continue to remain out of contact.

“That leaves the other two options: that he was either alive at the time but, due to mental health issues, not able to communicate with anyone, or that he was no longer alive. Since we have heard nothing at all from him in these past weeks, it seems to me that these are the only two plausible solutions.

“There is the outside chance that he is being held somewhere against his will and, although aware of what’s going on, is unable to do anything about it. But who would abduct him, and why? While kidnappings of children and young women are an all too frequent reality, it’s very unusual for an adult male to be abducted in such circumstances. We can’t entirely write off the idea, but it seems a highly unlikely scenario.

“Although he could be out there somewhere and able to come home at some point, the hope of finding him alive and well is dwindling as time goes on.”

She said the family were making it a priority to look after his affairs and were taking legal advice about how to proceed.

She added: “Throughout his life Fergus has been a joiner of clubs and societies. His active participation in a surprising number of different organisations has left many people feeling bereft, and we express our sympathy to all those who have been affected by his disappearance.

“Knowing how seriously Fergus takes his responsibilities, it is hard to imagine him making the decision to stop all communication with his family, friends and colleagues so suddenly.

“If nothing is found of him in the weeks, months and possibly years to come, we must adjust ourselves to that situation. Under Scottish law, without a death certificate a missing person can’t be accepted as dead until seven years have passed.

“That is a long time to wait for full control over a loved one’s affairs, but it may be what we have to endure. In the meantime we will do as much as we possibly can to protect his interests.

“I know that many of Fergus’s friends and colleagues still think of him regularly and continue to send us their kind thoughts. This is much appreciated, especially when there have been no developments to report for so long. Thank you to everyone who keeps this strange situation in their thoughts and prayers and, along with us, hopes for a resolution soon.”

She last saw her brother just two days before he disappeared when he visited her at her home in Blairgowrie.

She said he seemed “upbeat” and she had no inkling that he would go missing.

The brilliant former Cambridge maths student, of St Leonard’s Bank, Edinburgh, is a research fellow at Edinburgh University’s Centre for Speech Technology Research.

His past research has included human-computer interfaces, the evaluation of automated telephone services for BT, and the design of an automated railway timetable inquiry system.

Online Mr McInnes lists his interest and hobbies as croquet, organising walks over the Pentland Hills and further afield and “changing the world”.

He describes himself as a former Christian, now a secular humanist, and writes about having battled depression.

His sister said that since having treatment for the condition in 2010 he appeared to have been depression-free for years.