A CHILDHOOD friend of missing Sheila Fox has spoken of the last time she saw the six-year-old girl.

She was speaking to a mystery cyclist on the day of her disappearance.

Just days after detectives called off the search for Sheila's body in the back garden of a house in Barton Road, Farnworth, Marian Standring contacted the BEN.

Mrs Standring, who was a classmate of Sheila's at St James' Primary School, spotted Sheila talking to the cyclist as she walked home from lessons on August 18, 1944.

As revealed in the BEN, there were several reports of the girl seen riding on the crossbar of a man's cycle, but the biker never came forward to be ruled out of the investigation.

Now, 57 years on, Mrs Standring lives in Alberta, Canada, but was sent Evening News cuttings of the dramatic garden dig for Sheila, which failed to find any trace of the girl.

In an e-mail to the BEN, she said: "I remember a man on a bicycle who I saw Sheila talking to. That was the last time I saw her."

Mrs Standring recalled how she and her young New Bury playmates had been rocked by the murder of Jack Queinitin Smith and an attack on David Lee.

Writing from her home in Calgary, the grandmother-of-four, who is in her 60s, said: "Our lives as children did change forever after those incidents, and I can relate perfectly to some of the quotes from people you interviewed in your stories.

"Opening this case again must have been particularly difficult for Rene Fox and my heart goes out to her and all the people associated.

"I'm sorry the search was abandoned and Sheila wasn't found. It would have been a blessing to put a closure to this after all these years, particularly for Rene."

The BEN has passed on Mrs Standring's e-mail to Bolton detectives, who insist the investigation into her disappearance will not be closed.

A police spokesman said: "We will continue to consider any new information passed on to us concerning the disappearance of Sheila Fox." The dig site in Barton Road, and, inset, Sheila Fox