ON the fireplace in the lounge sits Helen Dawson’s favourite picture of her son Richard.

Cheery and smiling, it captures perfectly her bubbly eldest child – but the very reason it is there is a stark reminder of her devastating loss.

Ten years on, the earth shattering moment she learned her son was inside the Twin Towers during the world’s worst terrorist atrocity, and her unimaginable wait for news and hope for his survival, is still painfully vivid.

But despite her world crumbling, Helen counts herself among the lucky few.

Amazingly, seven months after the merciless attack that claimed the life of almost 3,000 innocent people, Richard’s body was found among the rubble. She knows she is one of a very small number to have got their loved one back.

At lunchtime on September 11, 2001, Helen returned home from work and like the rest of the world, stopped and watched in horror as two planes plunged into the side of the World Trade Center’s twin towers.

For a brief few minutes she had no idea 32-year-old Richard had travelled to New York, until the phone call from her daughter.

She told her Richard was in the city on business, and asked if she had heard from him.

But it wasn’t until much later that night that her world fell apart as she learned he had in fact been inside the ill-fated building – on floor 106 attending a business conference.

The 32-year-old had gone to New York representing his company, engineering firm Thales Contact Solutions in Tolbar Way, Hedge End. He had been inside the south tower attending a conference held by Risk Waters.

Helen said: “It was 10pm when my partner walked into the room and told me Richard was in there. That was it. I began the task of ringing around my children and the rest of my family who all descended on the house.

“I spent the night waiting for the phone to ring, but knowing it wouldn’t.”

The days that followed became a blur as they desperately clung on for news of a miracle escape, but the call never came.

They made repeated attempts to contact the Foreign Office, frantic for information, but when the line finally connected there was nobody to answer their calls, just an answer machine.

“It was impossible to watch the television but at the same time you had to. I just hoped and prayed that somehow he had got out, maybe dug a tunnel, but deep down I knew he wouldn’t have stood a chance. He was right there, at the point of impact,” she added.

Within a couple of weeks, the mum of four had made the trip to New York.

“It was just so desolate. Even then, weeks later, I could still breathe in the dust. I stood there and looked at that site and thought to myself “that’s my son’s grave.”

“I felt I needed to be there because Richard was there - I just had to go.”

Helen and nine members of her family spent four days in the stricken city before returning home.

“We got all the support from Richard’s company, they were brilliant. They arranged for us to go out there.”

The last time Helen saw her son was shortly before his death as he celebrated his birthday with a party at his home in Canton Street, Bedford Place.

Only days before, he had rang her like he regularly did, asking for cooking tips as he prepared to make dinner for his girlfriend’s parents.

Helen has fond memories of two big family functions during the summer months - with Richard’s brother Roger getting married in May 2001 and his aunty celebrating her 50th birthday in July.

She said: “That was the last time all the family were together. He was there, larger than life – you’d always know when he walked in the room.

“He was just so funny and bubbly, everybody loved him. He was competitive, always wanting to be the best at whatever he was doing and he always worked hard.

“We had two big events that year and this was the third.”

A Southampton University graduate, Richard had a masters in electronic engineering.

He initially worked in Fareham, buying a house and renting his spare rooms to university friends who were continuing to study.

After a brief flirtation with the ambition to become a fighter pilot in the RAF, Richard settled on engineering – and a mission to climb the ranks in his industry.

Helen said: “He always said he wanted his boss’s job one day, he made no secret of that. He worked hard, but enjoyed the socialising – he loved his food and drink. He was a regular with his friends on a Friday night at a restaurant in St Mary’s, so much so they even consulted him on changing the menu. I often wonder if they ever knew why he hasn’t been back.”

A month later, scores of friends and family, and colleagues from America, attended a poignant memorial service for Richard. It included his girlfriend, who was due to move in with him a week after the atrocity.

But by the following April, in 2002, the mourners were able to reunite again - this time to say a proper farewell to Richard, following the discovery of his body among the ruins of Ground Zero.

“We brought him back home and he is now buried with his father. I’m lucky in a way. Many people have not got anything.

“On his birthday we go there, and at Christmas. My grandchildren have all been born since he died, but they all know and we talk about Richard.

“They make him birthday cards and decorate his headstone at Christmas with baubles and cards. They call it Uncle Richard’s Garden.”

Helen, who lives in Bournemouth close to Richard’s sisters Louise and Jane and his brother Roger, sees little point in getting angry about the politics and subsequent “war on terror” in Iraq and Afghanistan.

“I don’t have strong views because whatever I say won’t make a difference. It won't bring Richard back.

“There will always be a war with somebody and it’s not about to stop now. I don’t hate Islam, I don’t hate Muslims. It’s always the minority who make it bad for the rest who are now tarred with this.

“Richard was such a liberal minded young man. He wasn’t a racist, he always saw someone else’s point of view but they destroyed him.

“It doesn't seem like ten years have passed. He would have been 42 now. I can’t help but wonder how many children he would have had.

“He was usually late arriving for most occasions – I only wish he had been late for work that day. But that never happened. Wrong place, wrong time.”