Desperate to help find her, Kate Owen had rallied behind Ryan Bane after Sarm disappeared following a night out on the paradise isle of St John in the US Virgin Islands.
But after 12 months with no sign of sailing fanatic Sarm, Kate accuses the wealthy American of putting the Heslop family through hell.
Friends of the former air hostess admit they believe she is no longer alive, but say they are determined to discover what happened to her.
Bane, 45 – who was convicted for assaulting a previous partner – refused to speak to detectives and blocked a search of his 47ft catamaran. He received a citation for obstruction.
Then called Siren Song, the yacht has since been put up for sale with the new name of Orion’s Belt.
Kate told the Sunday Mirror: “Ryan is being obstructive. If he’s innocent and didn’t have any part to play in Sarm’s disappearance, just sit down and tell us everything.
“He’s put us through a year of hell by not answering questions.”
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Sarm, then 41, vanished on March 8 last year after leaving a bar with Bane and heading back to his £500,000 catamaran.
At 2.30am Bane had called 911 and reported that he had been woken by the boat’s anchor alarm and found Sarm missing.
He was advised to contact the US Coast Guard – but did not do so until nine hours later.
And he was later accused of obstructing US Coast Guard agents who tried to board, reportedly blocking a doorway. He has since refused requests to co-operate with the authorities.
Kate added: “I feel frustrated that he didn’t do more at the time and that we still have so many questions he could have answered.”
Expressing the fear that is on the minds of all Sarm’s friends, she went on: “If you didn’t do anything, why aren’t you answering the questions? What have you got to hide?”
Kate had sailed with Sarm to the Caribbean, where the adventurous Brit met Bane on Tinder eight months before her disappearance.
Initially, Kate had also been pals with him and was talking to him after Sarm went missing.
But she says she has been left questioning Bane’s behaviour since he cut all contact with her last June and blocked her on social media.
Bane has claimed he last saw Sarm on his boat after a night out at a nearby bar, before waking up and finding she had gone.
But officers say they have been unable to find any evidence Sarm ever returned to the vessel.
Kate said: “I phoned on the anniversary, but I didn’t get any answer. He may have changed his number.”
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Earlier calls were no help, Kate said, revealing: “He didn’t have any answers. His answers were all just, ‘I don’t know’.
“I don’t know how I would react in the same situation – but to me his reactions have felt questionable.”
Bane’s lawyer, David Cattie, did not respond yesterday to requests for a comment. He has previously said his client had been left “heartbroken” by the disappearance, and had no hand in any wrongdoing.
Kate also feels frustration towards the island police for making no progress in the case.
She said: “If you have so many unanswered questions, someone isn’t doing their job. The police should have acted a lot quicker. I know Sarm’s mum was quite angry with them and not really happy with what they were doing.
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“They say he can’t be questioned and his boat can’t be searched as there’s no proof of a crime.
“But surely you can’t find proof of a crime until you start investigating it – which would be to question him and search the boat. That would rule out whether she just fell off the boat or whether a crime was committed.
“It’s a vicious circle. How do we get any answers?”
Although they have been unable to question him, police investigating the case have described Bane as a “person of interest” in Sarm’s disappearance, and are treating the case as a missing person investigation.
Sarm, who lived in Southampton, worked alongside Kate for the now-defunct airline Flybe, along with a number of other close pals, including Vicki Mogridge-Percy.
Vicki runs a Facebook page set up to find the former air hostess. Admitting she shares Kate’s concerns about Bane, she claims he failed Sarm by not calling the coastguard for nine hours.
Vicki said: “We’ve trodden a fine line, but it’s got us nowhere – so we’re less bothered now about being slightly tactful. We need him to be interviewed and to shed light on what happened that night and why it took him so long to call the coastguard.
“If someone goes missing on a boat, you call the coastguard. He’s the captain. He should be answering questions.” She added: “Sarm is not a missing person, she’s not just gone off.
“She wouldn’t have disappeared, she would not have gone for a swim – she’s not stupid. She’s a strong swimmer and she’s savvy. All of her stuff was there… if she was going to go she’d have taken her phone and money.
“If police change the status it can be investigated properly and then the Foreign Office can get involved more.”
In a heartbreaking admission, Vicki added: “We don’t believe Sarm is alive, sadly. I would love it if she suddenly just walked back into our lives.
“But in my mind the only way to treat it is what it looks like.”
She also expressed concern over the police handling of the case.
She said: “I feel like the authorities on the island let Sarm down. We’ve been waiting for a big media campaign from the police out there, which they said they were going to do, but it’s not happened, which has been frustrating. They also missed a couple of Zoom calls with her parents, which is unacceptable, but have had some since.
“But our feeling is that, as this goes on, the case is just going to be filed and they’re going to basically give up.”
Sarm’s parents Peter and Brenda, both now retired, travelled this week to the US Virgin Islands to meet with island officials – including the Commissioner of Police Ray Martinez, Governor Albert Bryan Jr and US Coast Guard Lt Cmdr Jan League.
Virgin Islands Police Department were last night unavailable for comment, but spokesman Glen Dratte earlier confirmed they were set to meet with the Heslop family. In April, the force said detectives had been unable to confirm if Sarm was on board the yacht, as reported by Bane on March 8 last year.
Bane, the last person known to have seen her, has declined detectives’ requests for an interview, they said.
In November, the Sunday Mirror tracked Bane down to the Caribbean isle of Grenada, where he was spotted speaking with female passers-by – and meticulously cleaning his yacht.
He has since left the out-of-the-way Le Phare Bleu marina but is thought to be docked in Barbados.
The US Virgin Islands police department has said he is free to go wherever he wants.