A FRIEND of Tom Jones says he never gave up hope as he led the public search for the missing student.

Harley Hetherington created the FIND JONAH Facebook group and co-ordinated the public efforts to find 18-year-old Tom after he went missing in Worcester just before 4am on Wednesday September 19.

Thousands of people helped the search for Tom, who was found dead in the River Severn on Friday September 28.

Harley, 18, grew up with Tom and was studying Primary Initial Teacher Education at the University of Worcester alongside his friend.

“I’ve known Tom since we were both nine,” he told the Worcester News. “We went through middle school, high school, sixth form and obviously would have been through uni together as well. We played football together for Bromsgrove Blades for a few years and I reffed his team a few times recently.”

Harley said he discovered Tom was missing when a mutual friend called him at 3.30pm on the Wednesday.

“I’d messaged Tom 15 minutes before I was aware he was missing, to ask if he was going to the football social that night,” he said. “At first I believed he was at someone’s house and his phone had died.”

Speaking about why he set up the FIND JONAH group, Harley said: “Tom and I were never best mates at all but we were mates and I had to be there for not only his friends but for all who wanted him to come home.

“It was actually my mum’s suggestion and was originally for friends and family to be able to communicate together. I never expected such a massive reaction. It was a tough time but I had to show everyone that we all had each other and I had to do something – you can’t just sit there and wait.”

Via FIND JONAH, Harley became a key source of information for people on the progress of the search and the popularity of the group showed how beloved Tom was.

Harley said: “During the search I tried my best to stay in contact with the police and I posted updates when I had solid news. I tried my best to ensure Tom’s parents were doing ok – I didn’t want to intrude on what must have been a very tough time for them. I tried to allow them time to themselves whilst also ensuring they were coping.”

He added: “To be honest, for the entire time we were searching I always expected him to just turn up and we could see his smile and he would probably make a joke about the whole situation. It wasn’t until Sunday night at the vigil that it hit me that he was actually gone. At no point did I give up hope.

“If you always hold tightly to the memory of someone then you have them forever. Of course I knew it was possible we wouldn’t find him but if he’s in all our hearts forever, did we ever lose him?”

Commenting on the huge public reaction to finding and then paying tribute to Tom, which included a vigil attended by almost 1,000 people in the city, Harley said: “It’s been tremendous. I hope the whole of Worcester holds onto this sense of togetherness forever as it shows us all that there is always someone there and nobody is ever alone.”

Harley said that if he could say anything to Tom now, it would be: “The whole country loves you, mate, and even further beyond. We all know that you’re up there somewhere smiling and knowing that you are and always will be loved by every single one of us. You were and always will be in every single one of our hearts and we all love you forever.”