THE POLICE officer leading an investigation into the disappearance and suspected murder of Damien Nettles has said he regrets the loss of CCTV footage.
The footage, which showed 16-year-old Damien as he walked along Cowes High Street shortly after midnight on November 3, 1996, is the last known sighting of the missing teen.
Last week police issued a £20,000 reward for information leading to the location of Damien and police said today (Friday) they had received several pieces of information since the reward was issued.
But Superintendent Dave Powell admitted they had to learn from past experience, including the loss of the CCTV footage.
In a statement issued today, Supt Powell said: "The last confirmed sighting on surviving available CCTV is Damien in Yorkie’s fish and chip shop off Cowes High Street at 11.35pm on Saturday, November 2, 1996.
"We recognise concerns have been raised several times over the past 16 years about the handling of further CCTV footage that showed Damien’s movements in Cowes High Street after he left Yorkie’s fish and chip shop.
"Damien's parents viewed this footage with police in 1996 and positively identified Damien on that CCTV camera at 12.02am on Sunday, November 3, 1996 walking to a bus stop and then back along the High Street eating his chips.
"This matter was included in a previous review of the case carried out by Hampshire Constabulary.
"This review confirmed that CCTV footage from Cowes High Street on the night of Damien’s disappearance was lost by the police.
"We regret the loss of potential evidence in any investigation and have apologised to the Nettles family previously.
"This outcome was clearly disappointing and distressing for all involved. Experiences from our past are used to learn and improve, and detectives remain firmly focused on finding the ultimate answers to locate Damien, to provide answers for his family, and bring anyone responsible for a crime to justice.
"We continue to appeal for facts to confirm the most comprehensive account possible of Damien's movements and intentions on the night he disappeared."
He added: "Police would like to thank the Nettles family, the media and the community for their response to our announcement last Thursday of a £20,000 reward for information leading to Damien being found.
"We’re grateful for the considerable interest and support in our ongoing efforts to solve this case as the 16th anniversary of Damien's disappearance approaches.
"I share the Nettles family’s belief that the answers are held by people on the island.
"Therefore, a genuine desire to help and co-operate from the community is crucial to any breakthrough.
"Police have received a number of pieces of information since the reward was announced last Thursday. Each piece of information must be assessed methodically.
"It’s vital to remember that the biggest challenge we still face is separating fact from fiction.
"We have spoken previously about the large amount of rumour and misinformation that surrounds this case.
"We do not want to make hasty premature judgements about the significance of information received as a result of the reward offer or any other enquiries we make."