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The family of a man who vanished during a night down the pub 23 years ago say they have not given up hope of finding him alive.

Martin Joyce was last seen on September 5 1999 and would have turned 52 last Friday.

Greater Manchester Police are treating his disappearance as murder but his sisters don’t think their “king of the family” has been killed.

Martin had suffered two bereavements which left him in a fragile state a year before he went missing, but his family insist he was back on track 12 months later.

In 2016 police dug up the cellar of the Bank of England pub in the Ancoats district of Manchester after a tip-off that Martin’s body could be there but nothing was found.

Mary Joyce said in the Manchester Evening News : “I don’t believe he has been killed. But, I also don’t know why [he] disappeared.

“He was the king of the family, the boss, a big brother. I think he is still out there.”

The outlet reported at the time that the force had been tipped off three years earlier about the possibility that his body was in the pub – and not acted.

The boozer, now boarded up, was used as a function room for Manchester City fans on matchdays and is on a main pedestrian route to the Etihad Stadium.

Nothing was found during the police excavations despite ‘credible’ information that Martin had been killed during a fight and his body buried at the pub.

Martin had been living with his sister Mary and brother Michael in Gorton, Manchester when he went missing.

Mary added: “His dad, also called Martin, died in 1998, and eight weeks later his brother, Douglas died after suffering an epileptic fit.

“The deaths hit him hard and Martin tried to kill himself by taking overdoses. When he came out of hospital for those he got arrested for driving offences for which he was jailed for nine months.

“When he got out he was back to the normal Martin we knew.

“I reported him missing but I believe because our family are Irish travellers it was not taken seriously.

“For years were kept raising it with the police and got nowhere. Eventually we approached the Manchester MP, Lucy Powell, and when she got involved the police attitude changed.”

A fresh police appeal with the family was made in 2017, and another in 2018 led by DCI Stuart Wilkinson offered a reward of £20,000 for information which leads to the body of Martin being found or the conviction of those responsible for his murder.

In 2018 DCI Wilkinson told the MEN that police have made exhaustive ‘proof of life’ inquiries – including checks with health authorities, HMRC, passport control, even retail loyalty cards – but all have sadly turned up nothing.

They’ve also chased down possible sightings – as far away as Scotland – that have turned out to be false.

DCI Wilkinson told the MEN : “[Martin’s disappearance] is completely out of character, he’s literally disappeared in 1999 without any reason, which again is strange, we have had the information that he’s been in a fight, potentially that weekend, we’ve had information that he’s been in a fight and then buried in a pub.”

Mary said: “The efforts made by Mr Wilkinson and his team were tremendous but we now feel like the case is closed.

“We have heard nothing for four years since then. I still need help to find out what happened to Martin.”

Jimmy ‘The Weed’ Donnelly, who had been licensee of the Bank of England pub at the time Martin went missing, contacted the MEN at the time the pub was searched.

“When Martin Joyce came in he always seemed to be on his own,” he said in 2016. “I do not recall seeing him with any other people.

“I just want to clear the air before anything is said. It has nothing to do with me.”

GMP told the MEN that Martin’s case remains open and officers would act on any new information.

Anyone with information should contact the police on 0161 856 4717 or call Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800 555 111.