POLICE have offered a £20,000 reward for information leading to the location of Damien Nettles, the Isle of Wight teenager who disappeared almost 16 years ago.
In a statement issued today (Thursday) senior investigating officer Supt Dave Powell said the timing of the police-funded reward was designed to maximise opportunities for new information, as the anniversary of Damien's disappearance approached.
Damien was last seen in Cowes High Street on November 2, 1996, leading to fears he may have been murdered.
But his family has never given up the search for him and in February his sister Sarah started a campaign to raise £10,000 to fund a private reward leading to information about his disappearance.
Supt Powell said: "I share the Nettles family’s belief that the key to solve this case is to be found on the Isle of Wight, and that is where we are focusing the announcement of this police reward in the weeks leading up to the 16th anniversary of Damien’s disappearance.
"Police are grateful for the family’s considerable understanding and support throughout this investigation. Their drive and determination is an absolutely crucial element in maintaining awareness of this case and encouraging what we all hope can be a crucial piece of information that takes us to Damien.
"Regrettably we must always be mindful that there have been many false and potentially malicious pieces of information from the public, plus conjecture and rumour.
"I am interested in information based on facts, which can be assessed and verified in line with our standards and procedures.
"Police recognise that some people may have been worried about sharing what they know over the past 16 years. However, for anyone able to genuinely help – now is the time for you to examine your conscience and motives. Ask yourself a simple question – can you really tell us what happened to Damien?
"We continue to keep an open mind, but I stress that speculation, gossip and the spreading of rumours won’t help the police and the Nettles family find the answers we seek in this investigation."
He said: "For the past three years, it has been important for the Major Investigation Team to concentrate on analysing and acting upon the information already passed to police by the local community.
"This led us to arrest eight people who were questioned over the course of a year, and later released with no further action. Officers needed to focus on completing existing enquiries while multiple suspects were on bail.
"We did not charge anyone with a criminal offence, but those decisions were not the end of our investigation. Murder or foul play cannot be ruled out."
Regarding this latest development he said: "The police’s commitment to find out what happened to Damien is unwavering and undiminished. Our resolve remains to secure reliable evidence that can confirm his whereabouts.
"The biggest challenge we still face is separating fact from fiction because a vast amount and range of information about Damien’s disappearance has been received."
Police re-issued a description and details about Damien and the last time he was seen.
The last confirmed sighting of Damien was on CCTV at Yorkie’s fish and chip shop in West Cowes High Street at approximately 11.35pm on Saturday, November 2, 1996.
At the time of his disappearance, Damien was:
? six foot three inches tall
? slim build
? short brown hair, shaved at the back
? brown eyes
He was last seen wearing:
? a black fleece jacket
? dark blue jeans
? black boots
Anyone with information about the Damien Nettles case can contact Hampshire Constabulary by phoning 101 and asking for the Major Investigation Team at Fratton police station in Portsmouth or emailing firstname.lastname@example.org
Mini-Com users can call 01962 875000. Information can be given anonymously by phoning the independent Crimestoppers charity on 0800 555 111.