A complaint against Hampshire Constabulary over the handling of the case of missing Isle of Wight teenager, Damien Nettles has been passed back from the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) to be ‘investigated locally’.
Damien Nettles went missing on 2 November 1996 at the age of 16 in mysterious circumstances. Twenty years on and his family are no closer to knowing the truth about his disappearance or who was responsible.
Confidence lost in the investigation
Hampshire Constabulary had agreed with Damien’s mother, Valerie, that confidence had been lost in the 20 year investigation and that perhaps having the IPCC look into it was the way forward.
Today (Friday) Valerie was advised by the IPCC that they were referring the case back to Hampshire Constabulary Professional Standards Department (PSD) for a “local investigation”.
Mother: “Offender investigating their own crime”
Valerie Nettles told OnTheWight today,
“All I wanted is an independent investigation by unbiased eyes. The way I view this process is the offender has been given the task of investigating their own crime. Naturally I will work with the officer assigned to this task.
“It is unfortunate that I feel the need to bring these issues to their attention. Until I feel there has been some accountability in this case or some explanation of how we got to this point and until we can bring Damien home, then I am afraid I won’t be able to be at peace.”
Should the family feel the re-investigation does not meet their expectations, they can appeal directly to the IPCC for them to carry out the investigation.
Brief outline of complaint
The complaint submitted to the IPCC was based on Hampshire Constabulary not meeting the ‘Standards of Professional Behavior’ in the handling of Damien’s case back in 1996.
Over the years there have been lapses that have undermined the family’s confidence, including them having to deal with around 30 officers in 20 years.
Valerie explains that although their last complaint (in 2005) resulted in a local resolution, it still left some areas of concern/. These have been highlighted in the latest complaint.
“Damien’s disappearance was not taken seriously from offset – they had his age as 19 when he had only just turned 16. I was insulted by officers telling me Damien was 19 and old enough to go off without my say so.
“Searches were refused and I was perceived as a hysterical mother. In my opinion his risk assessment was not performed to a satisfactory level under the Missing Persons Procedure manual.”
Cause for concern
Other claims contained within the complaint include:
- Mishandling of the CCTV, which was taken for enhancement then lost
- Another video taken and spliced, removing potential evidence
- Disposal of police notebooks and duty logs – a cause for concern as some of that information may not have been entered into the HOLMES database.
- Data was not input into HOLMES database until 2006, although the specialised investigation software was rolled out in 1985. The family feel critical data was lost during that period, which may have impinged progress with the investigation.
- A suspect in the case had obtained witness statements (discovered by BBC reporters whilst making the ‘Unsolved’ mini series).
- Persons of interest were arrested on conspiracy to murder, yet Hampshire Police say this remains a missing person investigation.
- Claims that Damien’s case was mishandled initially by the police who were on duty in Cowes police station.
- Opportunities to preserve DNA evidence were not a priority
“During the early part of the investigation a property in Sun Hill was mentioned numerous times, but the police assured me it was closed for refurbishment, which had been confirmed by the council.
“However, last year I received intelligence to the contrary. Electoral Rolls and signed statements prove it was inhabited so I have insisted this factor is investigated thoroughly.”
The importance of Damien’s Law
Valerie finished by saying,
“I respect the Police are under immense stress with lack of resources and funding nationwide. This further reiterates the importance of Damien’s Law being approved to prevent other families enduring the same problems.”