Petitioning Prime Minister of the United Kingdom and Leader of the Conservative Party Theresa May MP and 1 other

Introduce ‘Damien’s Law’ with new guidance to ensure that more missing people are found

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Introduce new guidance to ensure that more missing people are found

Since 1996 there have been significant improvements in how missing people are treated and the understanding of vulnerability and risk associated with missing. However, more needs to be done to ensure that other families don’t have to live with desperately missing a loved one for months and years.

The risk assessment is the first opportunity for police to ensure the appropriate response when someone goes missing. It is critical that the right decisions are made at this point regarding the seriousness of the case and the necessary actions to find the missing person are taken as quickly as possible. 

Damien was 16yrs old when he went missing in Cowes, Isle of Wight on 2 November 1996. A missing person report was filed the following afternoon. Unfortunately, the police recorded his age incorrectly as 19yrs old, assessed him as low risk and his disappearance was therefore not taken seriously for several weeks. Throughout this time I attempted to explain that Damien’s absence was out of character and that he would not wilfully be out of contact. However, I was portrayed as a ‘hysterical woman’ by officers because I was begging for assistance to find my son.

Research by the charity Missing People suggests that, although few people who are missing will be found to have died, the risks are very real and those missing after a night out are at particular risk, a risk which increases the longer that they are missing. When someone is reported missing after a night out, it should be understood as an additional risk factor, and if combined with family assertions that the disappearance is out of character, the police should respond quickly and appropriately.

In the first few weeks after Damien went missing requests by the family for search teams, a helicopter and deployment of search dogs were all refused. In hindsight, if these actions had been taken, there would have been more chance to gather crucial evidence in the early days. Instead I am here 20 years later still looking for answers, with no explanation of what happened to my son. There are now no clear lines of enquiry due to the lack of evidence gathered in the critical days and weeks following Damien’s disappearance.

After a review in 2007 it was determined Damien was likely murdered, but without definite answers we remain in limbo as a family. I am unable to declare Damien dead and no further forward to knowing what happened to my son.

Sadly, it is not just my family that this affects. I have worked tirelessly as an ambassador for Missing People since Damien went missing 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 organisation to be able to sustain the needs of the magnitude of the issue.

I, hereby, petition the Prime Minister Rt Hon Theresa May and Home Secretary Amber Rudd, to acknowledge the distress and anguish suffered by families when the disappearance of a loved one is not properly responded to resulting in a long and painful wait. I also ask that the following recommendations are adopted:

  1. All cases involving those under 18 years of age should be assessed in accordance with the guidelines set out for the activation of Child Rescue Alert and an alert should be issued in appropriate circumstances.
  2. The risks associated with missing after a night out should be acknowledged by the police and other professionals. The response to people missing in this situation should be reviewed.
  3. The concerns of families should be taken more seriously when a person is reported missing. A family member’s assertion that a missing episode is out of character should always be taken into account and the risk assessment should be upgraded accordingly.
  4. Specialist training for police officers investigating missing persons, including training on risk assessment, should be updated to include an improved understanding of missing on a night out and working with families reporting the missing person. In addition to this, Police need to understand the psychological and emotional damage suffered by family left behind. It's like a life sentence of despair and grief. PTSD is a reaction to a traumatic event.  Losing a family member, especially a child with no knowledge as to why is devastating. Even when the family have resigned themselves that the missing person is dead it’s still impossible to grieve.
  5. If a missing person is deemed medium or high risk, specialist search teams and equipment should be used in the early stages of the police investigation to secure evidence and increase the probability of finding the missing person alive.
  6. Some long-term missing person investigations receive significant police resources whereas others receive much less. All families with a missing loved one need to know that everything possible is being done to find their missing loved one. There should be greater transparency about how police allocate resources. This might help improve understanding by families about what resource is likely to be devoted to their missing loved one’s investigation.

I call upon you to support this petition to implement these recommendations and acknowledge the suffering that my family has endured throughout the 20 years of waiting for news of Damien. To prevent other families having to endure the same heartbreak it is vital that families are listened to, that effective risk assessments are made, and appropriate steps are taken in the search to find the missing person alive. 

While my wish to find Damien’s remains, have convictions secured and justice delivered may not be realised, if these recommendations are considered I hope it will help other families who find themselves in the same unfortunate situation.

Damien Nettles Website: http://www.damiennettles.uk
Damien’s Missing People Appeal: http://www.missingpeople.org.uk/help-us-find/damien-nettles-96-001159
Facebook Group: http://www.facebook.com/damienslaw
Twitter: Damien's Law @DamiensLawUK1 #DamiensLaw

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