Damien Nettles went missing from Cowes, Isle of Wight in November 1996 at the age of 16. Here Damien’s mother Val shares the ways in which she continues to make a difference.
I found out in the early days that being proactive in my missing son’s case was the thing that kept me sane. I was drowning in a sea of emotion. Nobody can describe the distress of having a much-loved son just vanish without a trace. It was clear that not enough support, advice, or action was forthcoming from our local police. We had to become our own advocates for our missing child. Support came from friends of Damien, their parents, and the community. There is no doubt that assumptions were made about our missing boy which adversely affected any possible positive outcome in the case. We didn’t have a clue why he vanished or what to do. It didn’t make sense and it was out of character.
Although things have slowed down at the moment and there is not much left on the table that I can push for Damien’s case, I can still make a difference.
Over the many years Damien has been missing, I have come across random articles about the missing issue which could have been useful had I known. I was pleased to be asked by Charlie Hedges to be the family advocate as part of a working group with police professionals, universities, and the Missing People Charity. The creation of this website will make it easier for new people coming into this issue to find the advice they need, in one place.
I am a member of the Missing People Charity Advisory Board which is basically a think tank helping the Charity to plan content and events or giving opinions on subjects related to the issue from a family perspective.
I and another mother of a missing person participated in police training sessions, sponsored by Missing People Charity. By sharing our lived experience of this issue and what went wrong or what went right, we hope to bring some insight into how families are affected, some for decades, when assumptions are made, and risk assessment is incorrect. Very often there is a disconnect in communication which can impede successful relationships and positive experiences.
We were both also on the panel to create a bespoke candle for Missing People. Making contact with other families in this situation has been a very helpful and mutually supportive experience.
I have been fortunate to participate in several research projects by individuals and universities, in the hope my experience will help to shed light on the subject and there will be a better understanding of this issue. The interest generated in the missing issue will be beneficial as people go missing every day. Hopefully, the insights I can provide will have an impact on police and research for the good of future cases.
I joined a writing group, sponsored by Missing People, to help families use the written word to create poems or various other forms of writing and stretch our brain cells. It is a lovely way to connect with other family members while having a chat at the same time. Writing about my experience has always been something that was cathartic for me. To release those thoughts and feelings into a written form, either by hand or on the computer helped me cope. It was also a journal which later came to be useful as I wrote a book about our family’s experience, “The Boy Who Disappeared”.
Finally, if being proactive in the issue that took our son helps another family, then Damien’s short life has been given a purpose.