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Last Updated: Tuesday, 24 October 2006, 11:07 GMT 12:07 UK
Looking for my missing son
Damien Nettles
Damien Nettles was last seen in November 1996
Last week the Magazine published an article on finding people who have gone missing. In our reader's column, Valerie Nettles describes the nightmare when her son disappeared almost 10 years ago.

On 3 November 1996 we awoke much like any other Sunday. Damien, who was 16, was not in his room. He'd been for a night out in Cowes in the Isle of Wight so I was not overly concerned as I was sure he had probably stayed at a friend's house, which he had done before. He usually called me to let me know, but if it was late, he would call in the morning. It was OK.

When by late morning I had heard nothing, I decided to call the friend he had been with the night before, who told me he left Damien at 10.30pm and thought that he had gone home.

I began to feel very worried, it did not make any sense. I called everyone I could think of, but nobody had seen him. I got in my car and drove all over the place, expecting to see him walking towards home. But nothing.

Something was just not right. I felt very scared and bewildered as to what to do next. I felt that I was spinning and panic set in. I could not breathe. I felt something was very wrong and did not know where to go. We drove around and around, and still nothing.

Finally, we called the police. I was told that I should go to the local police station to file a report.

Seafront search

I was in a state of shock and confusion and panic and extremely upset when I got to the police station. It took a long time for them to open the door. My daughter was with me, she was scared too and wanted to be with me. I explained to the officer what the situation was but they did not seem to be very interested.

Damien Nettles
Damien as a child

They told me he was probably working out his problems and gone off for a while to sort himself out - lots of teens did this and to go home and he would show up.

I could not quite believe what I was hearing. My whole thoughts were focused on Damien out there somewhere, hurt and waiting for help. I never for one moment thought that he had gone off or run away as nothing was wrong at home and school was fine, as far as we knew.

So why would he wander off? It was out of character. I expected the police to jump on this and go out and look for Damien. I was left feeling a little confused as to what to do next. If the police were not concerned then who could help me? I felt foolish and very alone.

I went home. I could not leave the house. My whole existence was waiting for that familiar figure to come around the corner. The bus stop was just outside our house and every bus that stopped, I waited for Damien to step of that bus. I waited and waited.

The first night, after the police said that there was nothing that they could do, my husband, father and son went with flashlights and searched the seafront and the short cuts through the forest and park.

What can I say... a man in his seventies, a 13-year-old boy and my husband, out there in the dark, wind and rain shouting Damien's name and scrambling through undergrowth hoping against hope to hear his voice.

Hunting information

I could not believe the swirling turmoil that surrounded our family. People came and went, formed search parties, made posters and blanketed the town with them, sat with me day and night. The support that I had was amazing. It helped to know that so many people cared about Damien.

Damien Nettles
Damien "charging through the bushes"

The mother of one of Damien's friends suggested I go around to all the local pubs and ask if someone remembered seeing him. I followed her advice and sure enough, slowly but surely, I started to get some information from people who had seen him that night.

I passed everything I found to the police but at that point they were much more interested in looking at us. We did not realise this at the time, we were in shock, but they were looking at the family. When the detectives became involved, we had three of them descend on us.

They took each of us in turn into another room and questioned us, one of them stayed at the door and watched each and every one of us. I remember thinking at the time, why are they wasting time doing this, why are they not looking for Damien? I guess that had to be done, but I just wanted action.

It was dreadful. In the next weeks suddenly a police car would arrive. It was awful. Every time I would panic, could not breath, my body would start to shake. Seeing a policeman coming down the drive, I was petrified of what they were going to tell me.

They brought plastic bags with bits of clothing for me to identify that they had found in the sea. Thankfully, nothing they brought belonged to Damien.

CCTV footage

My friends went to every place that they could think of. They found out Damien's movements the night he went missing, they found the CCTV and the local chip shop video that showed him around 11.45pm.

Damien Nettles fishing
Damien liked to go fishing

The CCTV showed him wandering up and down the road, nothing seemed to be troubling him. He was on his own. The video from the local chip shop showed him coming in and standing with a group of men, who were not local. He waved to one of them. Two of those men were found but the rest have never been identified, despite the distinctive clothing one of them had on.

Days became weeks and still nothing. Friends came and went. Every time I heard the bus, I willed Damien to get off, but he did not. Every time the phone rang I hoped it would be him.

Eventually, slowly people stopped dropping by, lives went back to normal for others. Ours never did.

It is 10 years this coming November. We have been living this life of wondering what could have happened to Damien. Every bad thing that could happen has played out in my mind. Not knowing is the hardest thing. We need closure.

I am convinced that someone out there has the information that we need. Even the police don't seem to be looking for anything anymore. It is like living a dual life, one foot in darkness and the other in daily life. It is in the wee hours of the morning it comes back to me, and I replay it in my mind and wonder what happened to him that night.

Damien was a good friend of mine, though I didn't see him often. I still think about him from time to time (he had the biggest puppy eyes and a great smile) he always said hi and walked home with me after a night out if we met on the way (he was a gent even at 16).I now have a daughter of my own and feel for Damien's family even more than I did at the time (being only 16). Though his family need closure more than anyone his friends do to and I know that even after 10 years many of us still miss him. My thoughts are still with you Damien x
Vicky, Newport, Isle of Wight

This is every parent's nightmare. As the father of a twenty one year old daughter and now a three year old son, I felt shivers reading this story. My heart goes out to the family and I sincerely hope the day comes when they get the closure they so dearly need.
Geoff Gillespie, Tokyo, Japan

What a heartbreaking story. One can only imagine the terror and sleepness nights this mother has had. Not knowing must be tearing her apart. I wish her and her family all the best and hope they soon get the answers they are looking for.
Katie Smith, Bristol

When my son was 14 he went missing one night and after reading what Mrs Nettles and her family went through it brought it all back, the searching, getting the police involved (although I must say the police were marvelous to us) worrying, checking derelict buildings, questioning his friends etc. Fortunately he came back the next day, but I have never forgotten that night. My hopes and prayers are with the Nettle family that one day the mystery of Damien's disappearance with be resolved.
Christina Armstrong, Oxford

I live on the island and remember when this all happened. It was/is truly terrible. I'm very sad for Damien's family.
Kate E, Isle of Wight

I briefly met some members of the family in 1999 while our 16 year old daughter was missing. Thankfully for us our daughter returned a few weeks later, but that experience can not ever be forgotten or understood. In May of this year I met a couple on a tran who were from Cowes and I asKed if there was any news of the young man as I often think of the family and they told me he was still mIssing. How the family cope I cannot begin to image. At least we had an end to our fears and dreads, imaginings and sleepless nights . I would also appeal for the family. If any one thinks they may know even the slightest thing tell the police please to help a family get some peace of mind.
Carol Clements, Chadwell Heath, Essex

I am not surprised the police are not interested. I am aware of many other people who have the same experience with the police. I believe it is because they have arbitrary, government set targets. Anything outside those targets are ignored. They should be allowed to police according to requirements at the time rather than simply meet targets to enable the government to pretend that crime is under control.
James, Melksham

Valerie I am a mother who has three sons, the eldest is 22 and the youngest 16 so this story is an area which haunts most mothers like ourselves. My daughter's boyfriend who was only 17 was offered some drugs (tablets) by strangers when we lived in Oxford and we found him in Bournemouth, some 60 miles away. Apparently he had gone right off his head and was totally oblivious of how he had been taken to a place so far from home. This may have happened to your son too if he had been slipped a ectasy tablet or some drug without him even realising it. You may have done this already but check the seaside towns of Southampton, Portsmouth etc and try to get some sort of publicity there so you can get headlines news (as missing columns are never read by the down trodden who live on the streets) I will say a prayer for all of you and I sincerely hope that Damien does manage to get back to his loving family one day. God Bless you all
Toni, Trowbridge

I read Valerie's story whilst browsing through the BBC online pages, eating my lunch at work. Have you a way of passing on messages to her? Just let her know that I was thinking of her - am still thinking of her - and although she may feel forgotten, her story about Damien's disappearance was every parents' nightmare, and will have touched many people. How many times must she have heard that? I am sorry it was her story, and her nightmare.
Debra Jeffery, Milton Keynes

What a terribly sad story, surely with the right amount of publicity what happened to Damien that night could be found out.
Alex Taylor, Hereford

I read Valerie's story as I watched my own 16 year old daughter do her homework. My heart goes out to her as I can only imagine the pain she and her family have gone through. Our thoughts are with you. We hope with all our hearts that this article leads to answers about that night.
Tracy Shannon, Hong Kong

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