THE FAMILY of Sian O'Callaghan still face an agonising wait after a provisional murder trial date was set for January next year.

Christopher Halliwell, who is accused of murdering the popular 22-year-old last March, appeared via video link from HMP Long Lartin at a preliminary hearing at Preston Crown Court yesterday morning.

The 48-year-old, of Ashbury Avenue, Nythe, wore a prison issue t-shirt and spoke only to confirm his name and that he could hear the proceedings.

Sian’s family, including her mum Elaine and her partner Pete Shawe and her dad Mick and his partner Debbie, had to make the 400-mile round trip to Lancashire to be in court for the crucial hearing. It comes more than a year after office worker Sian was last seen alive leaving Suju nightclub, in High Street, Old Town, on March 19 last year.

The disappearance sparked a major missing persons hunt and hundreds of volunteers turned out at Savernake Forest to help in the search, but police later found Sian’s body at Uffington, Oxfordshire, on March 24.

At its peak, 150 police officers were involved in the investigation and the family paid emotional public tributes.

The inquiry sparked a mass outpouring of grief and led to several vigils and memorials for popular local girl Sian, with mourners turning out in their hundreds for her funeral procession through the town.

Prosecutor Ian Lawrie QC and Halliwell’s defence barrister Richard Latham QC engaged in a day of legal arguments last month and, at Preston yesterday, High Court judge Mrs Justice Cox ruled a trial date be fixed for the new year.

Restrictions on what can be reported from all hearings prior to the trial have been put in place by a judge.

A plea and case management hearing has been set for May 31 at Preston Crown Court, with the trial set provisionally for January 14.