Introduce ‘Damien’s Law’ to improve existing procedure for families of missing children

Introduce ‘Damien’s Law’ to ensure that when

The ACPO Manual of Guidance on the Management, Recording and Investigation of Missing Persons 2005 made some welcome revisions to the way that missing persons are dealt with by the police and this has continued through subsequent versions of the document.  Risk assessment is critical to determining the seriousness of the case and the document sets out a process for doing this. However, it fails to describe the risk factors used and no training programme has been developed to ensure that the police have sufficient knowledge of risk assessment or investigation of missing persons.

Some cases, with a particular concern for young males, continue to go under the radar. It seems that they are assumed to just go on a night out with no particular concerns being registered when they are reported missing.  This view is contrary to the findings of the report ‘Going missing on a night out,’ Missing People Research Summary (2011), with 17 people in one sample year and 22 in another being found dead. All were males.  This is in breach of the legal obligation set out in the Human Rights Act 1998 and the European Convention on Human Rights to protect life.

I, hereby, petition the Prime Minister Rt Hon Theresa May and Home Secretary Amber Rudd, to acknowledge the distress and anguish suffered by families of missing persons where the disappearance of a family member is not properly responded to resulting a long and painful wait for the case to be resolved, if at all.  This applies to cases where there is criminal activity or other forms of harm that cause the person to have disappeared.

  1. To ensure that all cases involving those under 18 years of age are assessed in accordance with the guidelines set out for the activation of Child Rescue Alert and an alert issued in appropriate circumstances.  Police forces to be held accountable for failing to issue an alert where it could be appropriately used.
  2. To introduce specialist training for police officers in investigating missing persons, to include training in risk assessing such cases.  This training to include awareness of situations such as those outlined above in relation to young men.  This would ensure that risk assessment is done by trained police officers using suitable guidance rather than the existing checklist system.
  3. For effective search using specialist search teams and search dogs to secure evidence and increase the probability of finding the missing person alive.  This should be lead by the risk assessment and investigation strategy in accordance with the needs of the investigation.
  4. That CCTV footage is obtained as soon as practicable, but in any case within 48-72 hours of the missing person report being filed to ascertain last known sightings.
  5. A more standardised response needs to be implemented across the country with a more structured cold case review process and collation of cases to a central point, with the possibility of a dedicated cold case unit.  Currently there are significant variations between police forces, as to how cases are investigated and which ones are recognised as being of greater seriousness.  This is particularly true of cases that have not been solved with the families left in limbo, sometimes for many years.
  6. The unfairness of inequality of funding needs to be addressed, whereby some long-term cases get millions of pounds but the majority get nothing.  How can it be justified that all cases are not treated equally when all of the families are suffering this dreadful loss?

I call upon you to support this petition to implement ‘Damien’s Law’ to protect vital evidence to ensure other families do not have to endure the same heartbreak as us when a loved one goes missing under suspicious circumstances.

Damien was 16yrs old when he went missing in Cowes, Isle of Wight on 2 November 1996. A missing persons report was filed the following afternoon. Unfortunately, the police got his age wrong at 19yrs old, put him at low risk and his disappearance was not taken seriously for several weeks. Notwithstanding this, I was portrayed as a ‘hysterical woman’ by officers because I was begging for assistance to find my son.

Search teams, helicopter and deployment of search dog requests by the family were all refused. In hindsight, if these procedures had been in place, there would have been more chance to gather crucial evidence in the early days. Because the initial missing person procedures were not implemented, the case got off to a bad start.

Damien’s movements were well documented up to 12:06hrs when he was last seen on CCTV in the High Street. Unfortunately Hampshire Police, who have since apologized, lost this exhibit, which is nowhere near acceptable when my son’s young life was not and is still not given any credence. Yet here I am 20 years later still looking for answers, with no secured convictions and all clear lines of enquiry lost due to lack of escalation in the critical days and weeks following Damien’s disappearance. We remain in limbo as a family and I am unable to declare Damien dead and no further forward to knowing what happened to my son.

A Major Investigation Team were not appointed until some seven years after Damien’s disappearance. After a review in 2007 it was determined Damien was likely murdered, but while this cannot be ruled out, it remains a Missing Persons (Mispers) Case.

Unfortunately it is well documented that other families of young males remain in the same predicament, with little or no support. I have worked tirelessly as an ambassador for Missing People since Damien went missing 20yrs ago and retain a close unity with parents of other long-term missing children. The Missing People Charity is all we have and the job is massive and the funds are short for one organization to be able to sustain the needs of the magnitude of the issue.

Despite the introduction of the Equality Act in 2010, missing males continue to be dismissed as ‘just being lads’ and something needs to be done to ensure they have the same level of escalation as young females.

If Damien’s Law is introduced, while my wish to find Damien’s remains, convictions secured and justice may not be realised, I hope it will help other families who find themselves in the same unfortunate situation.

Operation Ridgewood Hampshire Police Casebook for Damien:
http://www.hampshire.police.uk/internet/news-and-appeals/casebook/casebook-damien-nettles

Earlier this year, BBC Three released an eight-part documentary Unsolved - The Boy Who Disappeared. This is available on iPlayer:
http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p041fkdp

If you are unable to view iPlayer, the series is also viewable on YouTube:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=88-foX1zjfk

Damien Nettles Website: http://www.damiennettles.com
Damien’s Missing People Appeal: http://www.missingpeople.org.uk/help-us-find/damien-nettles-96-001159
Facebook Group: http://www.facebook.com/damiennettles
Twitter: Damien Nettles @DamienNettles #DamienNettles

This petition will be delivered to:

    Valerie Nettles started this petition with a single signature, and now has 1,309 supporters. Start a petition today to change something you care about.