As the new university year kicks off, we understand how exciting it is to mark your new-found freedom. From marking Freshers’ Week with a few drinks at the Student Union to dancing the night away in your university town’s club, it’s easy to get caught up in the fun of it all. Amongst all the fun, it’s also easy to throw the worst-case scenario of going missing to the back of your mind.
Unfortunately, every year young people leave for a night out and don’t return home. Damien Nettles was only 16 when he went missing on a night out in 1996. Twenty-six years on, his family still feels the hurt from their beloved son and brother’s disappearance.
“The risks are real, and people really do go missing and never come back. Damien Nettles, my brother, is one of those people. He has been missing since November 2, 1996, and he has literally disappeared off the face of the planet, without a trace.” – Sarah, Damien’s sister
Damien’s mother and sister have shared their experiences of Damien going missing after a night out to help make sure no other family must go through what they have.
Remembering Damien, his mother Valerie has shared a poem about her last memory of him and more about the things that made him who he was:
A strapping tall lad, standing close to 6’ 4”
Quiet, thoughtful but with a silly sense of humour, he liked to make people laugh.
He left the house to meet his mates on a Saturday night in a small village on the Isle of Wight. Begged to stay out a bit later. I said okay. Words I came to bitterly regret. He walked out the door, leaning back in and waving, eyes twinkling and smiling “bye mum, see you later.”’
‘That was the last time I saw my son. Ever.
My heart bleeds every day with the pain of his loss.’
Damien’s disappearance has had a massive impact not only on his family but on many others in the local area and beyond.
“So many people in our family and his friends and wider community are affected by the ripple effect of his going missing. There is a name for this – it is ambiguous loss. If only he understood the dangers. If only we all had.” – Val, Damien’s mother
Damien’s sister, Sarah, was 19 and in her first year of university when he went missing. As well as coping with her brother’s disappearance, Sarah, too, is familiar with the risks of going missing on a night out.
“So many times, I remember as a student being with people I did not know whilst drunk. And I am still floored today that something seriously awful did not happen to me. I was just a baby, never lived alone without my parents until University, and suddenly I was in a halls of residence with 6 other girls who I was meeting for the first time. And we were all up for as much fun as possible. All this freedom and independence, right at our fingertips.
I look back and think of all the situations I put myself in, and all the situations that I came out of; alive, well and present. I am so grateful that my sometimes-reckless behaviour did not get me in more trouble than it did.” – Sarah, Damien’s sister
Valerie and Sarah hope that their lived experiences will bring awareness to the issue of missing on a night out, encouraging young people to look out for each other during what’s meant to be a fun, positive time.
We are grateful for their support in helping to launch our Missing on a Night Out Campaign which aims to raise awareness of the potential risks and help keep young people safe.
Along with Sarah and Valerie, our Helpline Team has shared 14 tips to stay safe for Freshers Week and beyond.Read our tips here