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Damien Nettles: A mother's search for the truth

Wednesday, November 2, 2016 - 12:58

Twenty years ago Damien Nettles left home to go to a party with friends — he never came home.
The posters in shop windows are long-faded and the last of those arrested on suspicion of his murder were released five years ago but the Nettles family and their friends continue to search for the truth behind his disappearance.
His mother, Valerie, has spoken this week of the devastating impact the case has had on her and her family, in the hope someone who may hold a key piece of information — big or small — will come forward.
It was on November 3, 1996 that Damien’s little sister Melissa, then aged eight, discovered Damien’s bed had not been slept in the night before.
Assuming he had stayed with a friend, Valerie did not panic. She waited until she thought people would be awake on a Sunday, before making some phone calls.
"When his friend, Chris, told me he hadn’t seen him since 10.30pm, that’s when I had a gut feeling something was wrong. Alarm bells started ringing," said Valerie.
It was the start of two decades of pain for Valerie and the Nettles family.
Weeks of searching by friends and family failed to reveal any sign of Damien and, as each day passed, Valerie saw the chances he would walk back through the front door fading.
As others returned to normality, the Nettles family — Valerie, her husband, Ed, and their other children, Sarah, 19, James,12 and Melissa — were left in limbo.
Valerie said she struggled to leave the house for almost a year, fearing Damien might come home and she would not be there to welcome him.
"We were all in a state of shock. Melissa was clinging to me the whole time. She knew I was in a state. Sarah went back to university and tried to immerse herself in student life and James locked himself in his room — I was most worried about him.
"The girls would laugh and cry and we would talk about Damien but James would not talk about it. He was angry; angry with his brother and angry with us. He did not know how to cope with the anxiety.
"I could see my little boy spiralling. He would act out sometimes, he was not getting any support at school, people would make jokes to him about what had happened."
She added: "All the children were going through their own grief and loss and they were having to watch their parents fall to pieces. All the focus was on Damien and there were these three children watching what was happening and trying to deal with it."
Over time, the family has found ways to cope with Damien’s loss — 'compartmentalising it’ according to Valerie.
But for her, there is no respite.
"You see other cases in the media, about a missing person who has disappeared years ago but 25 years later, their remains are found.
"That is the best I am hoping for but at least that would give us something, some kind of explanation about what happened.
"There is always that glimmer of hope," she said.
"I thought I could do this for ten years. That date came and I thought I cannot stop now. There is always something that comes along. I just keep going, It’s exhausting and I feel like I can’t go on but I cannot stop.
"He is not some lost puppy. He is my son."
Following witness accounts obtained during the BBC’s recent investigation for the documentary Unsolved: The Boy who Disappeared, Valerie said they were keen for anyone with information about raised voices and an altercation in the Sun Hill area of Cowes, on the night Damien went missing, to come forward.

 


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