DAMIEN NETTLES – 2 NOVEMBER 1996
COWES, ISLE OF WIGHT
Unsolved: The Boy Who Disappeared
On the night of 2 November 1996 on the Isle of Wight, 16 year old Damien Nettles disappeared after a night out with friends. Despite sightings, witness statements and CCTV, Damien has never been seen since, his body has never been found and no one has been charged with his murder, plus there have been a number of issues with the police investigation. Damien’s disappearance has had relatively little media coverage compared to other missing children.
That all changed in July 2016, when BBCi produced a brilliant 8 part documentary about Damien’s disappearance by two investigative journalists – Alys Harte and Bronagh Munro – who moved from Ireland to the Isle of Wight for three months and investigated the case. You can find a link and full information on each episode at the end of this post.
This is a very complex missing persons case dogged by rumours and including the drugs fraternity and underworld. Therefore this is a very long post. What is apparent from the programme is that people are still very worried about speaking out and although there have been numerous claims made over the years, there is a ring of silence and a worrying level of ineptitude surrounding the investigation.
If you have information relating to Damien’s disappearance, you can contact police by phoning 101 or emailing email@example.com
Mini-com users can phone 18001 101. Information can be given anonymously by phoning the independent Crimestoppers charity on 0800 555 111.
DAMIEN, HIS FAMILY AND HIS FRIENDS
Damien and his family lived in Woodvale Road, Gurnard on the Isle of Wight. Damien was an accomplished musician, enjoyed fishing and had an interest in psychology. Damien was 6ft 3″ tall and on the wet and stormy night he went missing he was wearing:
- black fleece jacket
- dark blue jeans
- blue boots
The last confirmed sighting of Damien was on CCTV at 00:02am on 3rd November 1996 in Cowes High Street. There were two routes Damien could have taken to get home – either through a park or on a coastal road. As it was a stormy night his mother believes he would not have attempted the coastal road. As we eventually learn, Damien is extremely confused and ‘out of it’ on the night he disappeared and so could have possibly lost all sense of danger. However, due to the tide, if he had fallen in to the sea, his body would have washed ashore.
His family have since relocated to Texas in the US but are still actively searching for Damien. Twitter Account
They separated just months before he disappeared after 18 months together. She claims Damien had started to hang around with people older than him and had begun dabbling in drugs. She bumped in to Damien & Chris at Alldays
Damien’s friend with whom he had a very close, special relationship. At the time of Damien’s disappearance, her then-boyfriend was heavily in to drugs and was normally supplied by one dealer who was also close to Nicky McNamara and others.
TIMELINE OF DAMIEN’S FINAL KNOWN MOVEMENTS
- 19:10pm: Damien’s father drops him off at Chris’s house in East Cowes and they go to a party in Grange Road (1), along with Davey and three other friends.
- 21:20pm: Damien decides to leave the party and Chris goes with him. Nobody can be sure if this was because the party wasn’t enjoyable or Damien is wanting to score some drugs. He has also taken a black camera from the party.
- 21:30pm: A girl (Witness A) working in Alldays remembers Damien buys some bottles of cider for himself and Chris. Outside he bumps in to his ex-girlfriend, Abby, (Witness B) who says he seems a bit drunk yet intended to drink more. She says that he had no money and she had none to give him. (2)
- Damien and Chris take the chain ferry over to Cowes (3) and are seen by two school friends (Witnesses C & D) alighting the ferry and walking down Medina Road towards the Duke of York Pub. He was described as looking “happy” and that he looked as if he had “obviously been drinking but wasn’t drunk“. (4)
- 22:00pm: Witness E claim to have seen Damien with some friends at The Duke of York pub on the corner of Medina Road and York Road. (5)
- 22:00pm: Damien enters Yorkie’s Chip Shop in the High Street. He picks up a salt cellar, says: “Alright?” and walks back out again. (6)
- 22:10pm: Witness H claims to see Damien outside the Arcade (directly opposite the chip shop), holding a can of lager and sharing a cigarette with a friend. He appeared very drunk and looked “moody“. (7)
- 22:20pm: Witness I (who knew Damien) sees him outside The Fountain pub on the corner of High Street and Town Quay. He was alone and drunk. (8)
- 22:30pm: Witness J, the licencee of The Fountain pub remembers a young lad entering the pub but he is told to go outside to finish his chips before he can return and he seems to be under the influence of something but not drunk. (8)
- 22:30pm: Chris, feeling cold and wet decides to head home and persuades Damien to leave too. Chris and Damien part at the steps leading in to Northwood Park from Park Road. (10) Damien was heading up the steps as Chris left for home. We now know that Damien must have turned around and headed back to the High Street.
- 23:00pm: Witness K (who knew Damien) sees him in the High Street as she makes her way to the Harbour Lights pub.(11)
- 23:10pm: Witness L is asked by a youth for a cigarette outside the Harbour Lights pub. (11)
- 23:15pm: Witness L then watches the youth attempt to get in to a blue Ford Fiesta parked outside the pub. He asks the youth if he has permission to which he replies he doesn’t and walks off.(11)
- 23:20pm: Witness M (a bar lady at the Three Crowns pub) sees a young man trying to get in to the pub via a side door. Witness N (the manager of the pub) sees Damien walk from the front of the pub and down the side alley to attempt to get in to the side door. The manager tells him the pub is closed but Damien says he is looking for his sister. The manager tells Damien to leave and he does.(11)
- 23:30pm: Witness O (Denis Welsh) is serving in Yorkies as Damien enters the shop again. There are four men (witnesses P, Q, R, S) waiting to be served and they all seem to know each other. Another male (who seems to know the other four) enters (witness T) and refers to a police car that has just pulled up outside the shop and jokes they should use it as a taxi to get to the club. When they leave, Damien tries to order a portion of chips but appears confused and unable to articulate what he wants. Denis manages to ascertain what he wants and serves him some chips. Damien leaves the shop, turning left out of the door and heading North up the High Street. Denis speaks to his colleagues (witnesses F & G) and they all thought that Damien seemed ‘out of it’ and suggested he may have been on drugs but didn’t know. (11)
- 23:52pm: Witnesses F, G & O see Damien walk back past the chip shop. Damien waves as he passes, this time heading South on the High Street. (11)
- 23:52pm: After speaking with people at a bus stop at Terminus Road (by Carvel Lane), a bus driver (witness U) says a lad gets on his bus with a camera and chips and asks to go to Cowes. The bus driver tells him he is already in Cowes. He tries to take a photo of the driver, then thanks him as he gets back off the bus, as if he had just reached his destination. (12)
- 23:59pm: A man waiting in his car to collect someone (witness V) says he sees a teenager huddled and eating chips. The teenager then approached the witness and says: “They are watching us”, before walking round the car and clearing the rain off the windows and walking off towards the High Street. Witness V has no idea what the teenager means and is then approached by a police officer soon after.
- 00:02am: A CCTV camera near Yorkies catches Damien walking to a bus stop and then back along the high street, eating chips. This is the last confirmed sighting of Damien. He isn’t caught by any of the other cameras on the high street.
- Somewhere around this time, a witness claims to see Nicky McNamara holding a tall youth up against a wall in Bars Hill (9).
- 00:30am: Witness Y driving in a car reportedly saw Damien in Baring Road. Shirley Barrett once told Ivor Edwards that Nicky Mac and an unnamed man picked up Damien in Baring Road. Shirley now denies saying it.
If Damien had headed home, he would have gone through Northwood Park (13), along Baring Road and on to Woodvale Road (14), where he lived.
YORKIE’S CCTV FOOTAGE
It has subsequently been established that these men were in the army and had been visiting the Isle of Wight for the weekend. The police do not feel they are in any way involved.
THE NOTORIOUS DRUGS RING
The Isle of Wight’s drugs were sold by one large group of people. The names of a number of people from this group have come up time and again in connection with Damien’s disappearance. The following four feature in the documentary but there is no evidence to suggest they were involved in Damien’s disappearance and they have consistently denied any involvement.
Shirley Barrett – drug dealer & notorious anti-social tenant. Was in a relationship with Nicky McNamara. Has 52 unspent convictions.
Daniel Spencer – close friend of Nicky MacNamara. Drug dealer. Arrested and bailed in 2011 in connection with Damien’s disappearance but CPS concluded there was not enough evidence. Now living in Brixton. Unnamed sources claimed he would regularly speak about Damien when drunk and referred to him as “a little cunt”.
Nicholas John McNamara (Nicky Mac) – main suspect. Violent drug dealer and central part of the group dealing drugs on the island. Died in 2003 in suspicious circumstances at Shirley Barrett’s house. Heroin had been injected in to his back and he had lain dead in the bath for 2-3 days before he was found despite Shirley Barrett being in the house the entire time. Coroner concluded it was ‘an accidental overdose’.
Jonathan ‘Bunny’ Iles – has over 30 convictions. Very close friend of Nicky Mac as they lived, worked and dealt drugs together. Denies knowing Damien or dealing to him.
Mill Hill Road: Chris claims that Damien would score drugs from a house in this road where Nicky Mac had lived. He would have come in to contact with Nicky Mac and Bunny Iles at the property.
Bars Hill flat: Claims that Damien had been shouting up to this flat (where Nicky Mac was) trying to get pills. This was said to have angered Nicky Mac. Witness X said he saw Nicky Mac angrily pinning a very tall youth up against a wall around midnight. Danny Spencer was stood nearby.
Marsh Road chalet: Where one witness claims to have seen Nicky Mac tending a fire in an oil drum the day after Damien’s disappearance. A dealer close to Nicky Mac lived there. It was searched by police looking for Damien in 2011 and a 35 year old woman and a 44 year old man from Cowes were arrested. Both were released without charge.
18 Fellows Road: The most notorious drug house on the island. Both Nicky Mac and Bunny Iles lived together at this address. Chris Boone confirms that Damien would regularly score drugs there but Bunny Iles denies knowing Damien. Witness Z claims Damien’s body was taken to the house and kept there for three weeks.
Prospect Road: Shirley Barrett’s former house (another drug house), known locally as ‘The House of Death’ as Nicky MacNamara & others died there. In 2003, Barrett was evicted due to being considered ‘a direct threat’ to her neighbours.
Woodland behind Gurnard Sailing Club: A witness claims that Damien’s body was buried here and friends regularly dig trying to find Damien’s body.
Proximity between Marsh Road, Damien’s home address in Woodland Road, and the woodland where a witness claims Damien’s body was buried.
FACTS: CONFIRMED ELEMENTS OF EVENTS
- Damien took a camera from the party. Neither this, nor any of his belongings have ever been found.
- Damien had been drinking.
- When Chris and Damien parted, Damien did not head home. He turned round and returned to the high street.
- Damien’s parents, Ed and Val, reported his disappearance within 24 hours of Damien going missing.
- Damien had started to hang around with an older crowd as well as dabbling in weed and speed in the months running up to his disappearance.
- Although some witnesses claim they thought Damien may have been under the influence of drugs rather than drink, there’s no evidence to suggest this was the case.
- Chris, Damien and Vicky would go to a house on the corner of Newport Road and Mill Hill Road where there were always lots of people.
- Damien and Chris had previously scored drugs from a house where Nicky McNamara lived.
- The case remains open and ongoing.
- It has never been a murder case – always a missing person case.
- A number of people have been arrested in connection with Damien’s disappearance over the preceding years, but nothing has progressed.
- A police car and three to four police officers were near the chip shop at the time Damien was there.
- There was a large, violent underworld drugs ring operating on the island.
- According to sources, Nicky Mac was extremely violent and dealt drugs to young boys and girls yet according to Bunny Iles, he was not violent.
- Hampshire Police took the recordings of all CCTV footage that showed Damien that evening. The recordings then disappeared/were recorded over.
SUGGESTIONS, THEORIES AND CLAIMS
“No body, no crime”
Private investigator who investigated Damien’s disappearance for the family for five years. When he began to look in to the case a police constable was sent to his home and he was told that they didn’t want him investigating the case.
- Local councillor, Lynn Hammond, who has searched for Damien since he went missing, was told by a source (who was very close to the drug dealers), that Damien was taken to a bungalow. Apparently there was some sort of altercation as Damien’s head went back against a wall before he then slumped to the floor and choked on his own vomit. It was claimed he was wrapped in a rug and black bags and could even possibly have still been alive at that point. Alys and Bronagh meet a police informant from the island’s underworld who says he had also been given the same information by the source, and who takes them to a wooded area where he claimed Damien’s body was buried and also confirms he had shared all the information with the local police. He also claims that Damien was killed over a debt for an 1/8th of weed. A punch thrown in anger by Nicky McNamara unintentionally killed him.
- Alys and Bronagh speak with some of the local bobbies from the time Damien went missing. They confirm that there was a real issue with drugs on the island and a huge level of criminality and violence surrounding it.
- Damien’s brother, James, recalled a suspicious encounter he had with Nicky McNamara as a young teenager a few years after Damien’s disappearance. James (and others) had gone to a house when McNamara entered and talked to everybody until he discovered who James was, became nervous and jumpy, and they were ordered to leave the house.
- Damien’s friend, Vicky, claims that when her then-boyfriend’s main dealer once turned up at their home, she asked Vicky what she thought had happened to Damien. Vicky thought this was extremely odd as she wouldn’t have known Damien as she was so much older. This dealer began by giving Vicky’s partner some free heroin, getting him hooked and then regularly dealing to him.
- Damien’s friend, Chris, stated that if Shirley Barrett was supplying Vicky’s then-boyfriend, then Damien would definitely have come in to contact with her.
- Ivor Edwards, private investigator, claimed that when a police constable was sent to his home to warn him off investigating Damien’s disappearance, the police also said that they thought Damien had swum across the Solent to see his sister. Ivor found the story so incredulous that it made him more determined to find out what happened to Damien.
- Ivor Edwards played a recording of a telephone conversation he had with a source in 2012 who gives him an account of what he says he witnessed in Cowes High Street on the night Damien disappeared between 11.30-11.45pm. He said: “I was coming up to the junction of Sun Hill in Cowes High Street. A group of males and one female came rolling out of Sun Hill as if like a posse entering a cowboy town. Nicky MacNamara was doing windmills, spinning around, and I said: “You alright Nicky? You seem to be off your face on something”, and he came out with some technical, chemical name of whatever he was on.” This places McNamara in the same place where Damien was last seen. The female was Shirley Barrett and one of the males was Bunny Iles.
- He then goes on to say: ” A police car pulls up directly outside Yorkies (Fish & Chip shop). Two women got out of the back of the car and some more coppers came along. There was about three or four coppers.”
- At around the same time, the CCTV in Yorkie’s picks up the following conversation between customers: “Seen the police car? Let’s see if we can get a life to the nightclub?” This corroborates some of what the witness has claimed.
- The same witness then goes on to tell what he witnessed the next day. “I see Nicky McNamara and he’s chucking wood in this oil drum – a big 45 gallon drum. Fucking great blaze. This was about 2:30pm. He’s chucking this wood in, right. I see Nicky go back in, come out with another bit of wood and he was scraping something along the ground and as he picks it up and he scoops it up off the ground, he then flicked it into the fire. It was the shape of a sleeve.” He also repeats his claims to Alys and Bronagh and tells that that although he shared the information with the police in 2011, he was too scared to sign a statement. (This is in Marsh Road).
- The witness also meets with Val, Damien’s mother, to give his version of events. He claims he bumped in to McNamara in Sun Hill the following morning and says: “His face… he was absolutely… he looked like a man fucked – really fucked up in the head. I said to McNamara “Are you alright?” and he said “I’m a damned man, I’m a damned man”. Later that day he sees McNamara again – this time at the Marsh Road chalet: “I saw Nicky McNamara shoving wood in to this oil drum. It was a big fire made from wood. It was dirty engine oil, and I could smell it. That was not the only other fucking smell that I could smell. After Nicky had dumped all this wood in to this oil drum, he legged it back in. There was enough time for me to see him come running back out with this fucking long, black, stringy thing that looked like it could possibly have been a sleeve of something. It could have been clothing. It looked like it was heavily sodden with dirty engine oil. Basically it looked like he had hold of an arm and he was about to go and drop it in to the oil drum. Maybe it was just a rag, I dunno, to keep the fire going? Was it evidence that they were disposing of?“
- In 2010, signed statements were given to police claiming that Nicky McNamara had made a death bed confession about Damien’s disappearance. One statement was made by Shirley Barrett, who now denies it.
- Witness W (who knew Nicky Mac) said that Damien was seen shouting up to a window of a flat in Terminus Road that night. He was looking to score drugs. This angered Nicky Mac, who it has been confirmed, was bailed to that address in 1996 following another offence. This was one of the island’s drug houses.
- Witness X claims to have confronted Nicky Mac and asked if the boy he had seen Nicky Mac pinning up against the wall was Damien. He said Nicky Mac became paranoid and his whole demeanor changed. He also claims to have seen Daniel Spencer stood 5 feet away.
- Ivor Edwards claims that Shirley Barrett told him Damien was picked up by Nicky McNamara and another man in Baring Road and that if he repeated that to anyone, she’d have Ivor murdered.
- Damien could possibly have taken drugs the night he went missing but there’s no evidence to suggest he did.
- Alys and Bronagh claimed that off-camera, Shirley Barrett admitted lying to police about serious matters for money.
- A friend of Danny Spencer claims that when drunk, Spencer cannot stop talking about Damien and repeatedly says “no body, no crime“.
- A second private investigator claims that sources close to Spencer all agree that he knows more about Damien’s disappearance than he lets on.
POLICE INVESTIGATION AND BLUNDERS
- The CCTV camera in Cowes High Street would have caught the witness who claims he saw MCNamara and gang near Sun Hill, as well as Damien when he left Yorkies.
- There were seven CCTV cameras in the high street. Rod Ainge handed over all footage to the police after Damien went missing but they subsequently lost it. He claims the police said: “We need to take this away to enhance it. So we got the policeman at the time to sign and put his number in the book and I countersigned the book. Weeks, probably even months later, when the police came back, they said they wanted to view the tape again and I said to the policeman: “But you’ve never bought the tapes back”, and they said: “Oh yes we have”, so we looked in the book and there was no countersignature reverse procedure to say it had come back.” The police accused Rod of losing the tape, which he flatly refuted, and said it was the last he heard of it.
- The family feel as if the police didn’t take them seriously when they first reported Damien missing and, when they asked about the possibility of a spotter plane or sniffer dogs, this was refused. They also asked if it could be included on BBC’s Crimewatch. Again, this was refused.
- Police got Damien’s date of birth wrong, making him 19 instead of 16 years old.
- It was the family who made missing posters and who also relayed information to the police about witness sightings of Damien.
- According to a family friend, the police referred to them as “a bunch of hysterical women”.
- It wasn’t the police but friends of the Nettles family who discovered the CCTV footage when Damien first went missing.
- When Val requested to view it, a police officer told them it was of little value as it was blurred and rubbish and claimed that an officer had gone through 11 hours of video and it showed very little, but agreed to show a very small amount of the footage. Val then realised that not only had they attempted to track the wrong person on the tape, but contrary to what they stated, it captured images of Damien.
- That same officer stated that rather than wrapping the tape up in an evidence bag, he left it in the video machine and it was later recorded over. Hampshire Police have apologised to the family for losing the footage.
- Val felt that police never really engaged themselves in the inquiry, claiming that it took two weeks for a detective to visit the family after Damien’s disappearance.
- Hampshire Police say that they began searching for Damien the day after he went missing, that they’ve reviewed thousands of documents, taken hundreds of witness statements and made eight arrests. No suspects have been charged, but the case remains open to new leads and experienced detectives are assigned.
- Hampshire Police previously offered a reward for information on Damien’s location but state that it did not deliver any credible new leads. The reward offer lasted six months and pleas by Val to extend it were refused.
- The police refused repeated requests for an interview, and refused to allow a meeting with Val to be filmed.
Daniel Spencer, now living in Brixton, acquired confidential police witness statements but no one seems to know how or can explain why he has them. One of the statements he acquired was by the Witness X, who claims to have seen Spencer watching McNamara pinning a boy up against a wall. Spencer showed this statement to a number of people and also confronted the witness who made it.
When asked, Hampshire Police refused to disclose how Spencer obtained the statements and when Bronagh confronts Spencer and asked how he got hold of confidential police statements, he responds by saying: “I don’t know, they’re junkies”. What does he mean?
- Why did Damien take the camera? Does Chris remember it?
- Who were the two girls that got out of the police car when it pulled up outside Yorkies?
- How did Daniel Spencer acquire confidential witness statements?
- Did Hampshire Police establish who were the officers that were outside Yorkie’s on the night of Damien’s disappearance?
HAMPSHIRE POLICE: OPERATION RIDGEWOOD
(Taken from their case book page).
The work of Operation Ridgewood to investigate Damien Nettles’s disappearance since 1996 has included:
● 1,134 people involved in the investigation (either as investigators, witnesses, or people of interest) since Damien Nettles disappeared on November 2, 1996.
● 357 witness statements have been taken to date since November 2, 1996.
● 2,553 documents have been reviewed and processed.
● Between 2010 and 2012, it was necessary for detectives to concentrate on analysing and acting upon the information already passed to police by the local community.
● This analysis led police in 2011 to arrest eight people who were questioned over the course of a year, and later released with no further action.
● Officers focused on completing existing enquiries while multiple suspects were on bail. We did not charge anyone with a criminal offence.
● Murder or foul play cannot be ruled out.
● Hampshire Constabulary offered a £20,000 reward between October 4, 2012 and April 4, 2013 for facts leading to the location of Damien Nettles.
● Police received 30 reports of information.
● Each of the 30 reports of information has been analysed and assessed in line with police procedures.
● None of the information led to new lines of enquiry. However, the case was not closed.
● A decision was made in November 2013 for the files on Damien Nettles to remain open for ongoing checks, following an extensive review of all information gathered.
Unsolved: The Boy Who Disappeared: The documentary, put together by two Irish investigative journalists, was split up in to eight bite-sized pieces.
Episode 1: The Night – Alys and Bronagh establish the events of 2 November 1996 – the night Damien Nettles went missing. Talking to his family and a key witness from that evening, they delve into what was happening in the teenager’s life at the time. Could the island’s drugs underworld be the key to solving this mystery?
Episode 2: The Informant – Alys and Bronagh track down an ex-informant from the island’s drug dealing scene. He hands over information about where Damien could be buried. But does this bring us any closer to the truth? And is this evening the informant claims to know?
Episode 3: The Suspect – Damien’s younger brother James returns to the Isle of Wight after 12 years away to help Alys and Bronagh with their investigation. As they gather more evidence and a key suspect emerges, conflicting accounts arise. But does this deliver a breakthrough?
Episode 4: The Weatherman – Damien’s mother Valerie comes back to the island to help investigate her son’s disappearance. Meanwhile, Alys and Bronagh meet with a private investigator who has worked on the case for years. He leads them to an anonymous new witness – ‘The Weatherman’. His evidence is dramatic. But should we believe him?
Episode 5: The CCTV – Alys and Bronagh interrogate the Weatherman’s account and discover the police lost crucial evidence. Not only could this prove or disprove the Weatherman’s account, it could also reveal Damien’s last movements. So what could have happened?
Episode 6: The House of Death – Alys and Bronagh go on the hunt for one of the island’s most notorious residents – a dealer, who was apparently in a relationship with the key suspect in the case. It turns out the suspect is not the only person to have died of a drug overdose in this dealer’s ‘house of death’. When the team eventually find her, she agrees to talk on camera for the first time about Damien’s disappearance.
Episode 7: The Search – In a final push to unearth more evidence, the team meet another friend of Damien’s who was with him the night he disappeared. Alys and Bronagh hear about a possible witness who could have vital information about that evening. All they need to do is find him….
Episode 8: The Dig – Alys and Bronagh deploy a cadaver dog to search for Damien’s body. Ultimately, they are led to one of the island’s most notorious drug dealers – a man rumoured to have information about Damien’s disappearance. When the team track this dealer down, he makes an astonishing offer.
- Five men arrested on suspicion of the murder of Damien Nettles: Daily Mail, 2011
- New information about missing teen surfaces: GloucesterLive, 2016
- Detectives probing missing 16 year old: Daily Mirror, 2016
- Hampshire Police Case Book
- IPCC response to complaint, 2017
- Meet the reporters – interesting comments at the bottom of the page