Wednesday, December 15, 2021

Whisper of a Christmas Memory

Lights twinkle
Snow flakes quietly fall

Reflections sparkle
On baubles and balls

An energy in the air

Scurrying feet echo & clatter

Mothers grasp small hands

excited children natter

The hiss of wet tires on roads

Last minute shopping done

Families bundle onto busses

They don’t feel the cold

As they scurry home

A warm joy in their soul


Festive music plays

I see it, I hear it

I don’t feel it.

I feel undone

I lost my son

He was just 16

Not yet a man

His humor spontaneous

His laughter contagious

But then there was none


I smile as I recall

Small hand that clung to mine

Small face glowing in wonder

Those quizzical brown eyes

Ernest and endless questions about life

Tall teen arms and legs flailing

Loving life

Guitar playing

music blaring

Endless stories

Living life to the fullest

Then there was silence


I used to feel the warmth and glow

I used to embrace this time

I used to have plans and joy

A piece of me is missing

Smiling through sadness

Thinking of those left behind

Going through the motions

Hollow emptiness inside

My life went away one fateful day

I sigh in resignation

As I ponder upon the fate of

the boy who was my son, Damien

Tuesday, December 7, 2021

My Mind is Restless


My mind is restless

The simmering frustration and anger is always bubbling below the surface.  Can I ever accept he is dead and gone forever?  If I felt he slipped away into the sea maybe I could live with that but then the other rumor and speculation takes precedence, it must.  We cannot discount those who come forward ardent with another theory of murder.  Life has been one long roller coaster since Damien Vanished.

Thinking all day and my mind does somersaults.  I need to write down the thoughts as they roll by and make some sense of them.  
Keep them somewhere so that I can go back and read them.  The turmoil is very real and there is no peace.  There is no hope.  It is a false hope. That tiny feeling of a glimmer of hope is significant enough to keep me on this road.  But I don’t believe I will get my boy back.  But it does happen for others, so maybe for us. That is all the hope I have, and it is not much to hang my hat on. 

I walk this very lonely road alone.  Others can leave it and return to it when they feel they can.  I can step away but it is always on my mind.  Niggling at my brain.  What if.  Maybe this.  What can I do?  What is there left to hope for. Should I walk away? Can I do some good? 

Friday, December 3, 2021

Lost Hopes & Dreams

 I wrote a book about my struggles with the case of my missing son, Damien Nettles.  I felt it was necessary to write our journey into my own words. The emotional turmoil of a child missing is beyond words.  I can only express what I have known. It goes without saying that anytime a family member mysteriously goes missing, it is unbearable for the family left behind.  There are few resources for a family like mine; no guidance came from the police for us.  We were fortunate to stumble on the Charity, Missing People, who provided guidance and support. 
Since that time I have been working with people who have come my way to make improvements/change in how missing persons cases are handled.  
So much can go wrong in the initial stages of a missing episode.  I say episode as in some cases, especially missing from care and County Lines, are revolving door cases which most of the time have some resolution until the next episode.  There are significant resources in place through National Crime Agency with focus on the exploitation of young and vulnerable people.
My focus is on the unexplained/out of character incidents especially young males who are NOT marginalized/criminalized in society but who are missing for other reasons i.e. unplanned or out of character and missing on a night out.  All too common yet often not given appropriate risk assessment by police who stereotype young men as boys being boys or just another teen runaway.   Quick assumptions, in some cases, that missing young people fit one profile, delays in thorough searches.   
The most important thing the police need to do, and is very simple, listen to the concerns of the family who know that person better than anyone.  Act upon it, immediately!  
In our case, we suffered from a feeling of helpless sadness and desperation, not being heard.  We could not comprehend the scope of what was happening.  We were in a state of shock.  There needs to be understanding of the dynamics of the situation that has befallen the family left behind to cope.  When someone goes missing, knowingly or unknowingly, they take several lives with them which will forever be damaged. In some cases, destroyed.  Lives veering onto a new dark path.  Unfulfilled hopes and dreams. Lost opportunities. Missed happiness. Deep sadness, anxiety, and depression.  Broken relationships.  The list goes on.  My experience spans 25 years at the time of writing this.  There appears to be increased awareness/willingness by authorities to look closer at such cases, but mistakes, often fatal are still made. Especially in the case young males who are often stereotyped as out on the town, lads being lads. Change is very slow.

Ways of coping

 You visit my thoughts every day.  Sometimes in my dreams I see you smiling and for a moment I believe your safe with us again.  With the  cruel light of day the vision & happiness it brought to my weary  heart, fades away and the cold reality washes over me.  Your gone.  It’s been a long time.  In my heart you live forever 16.  My hope is one day, in any way we can, we will find you and bring you home. Always and forever in my heart. 

 One way of coping that has helped me immensely is writing. It has been an outlet for my thoughts.  Sometimes it’s difficult to explain to someone who is not going through this experience of a missing loved one how it feels, the personal struggle.  So pen to paper (or thumbs to texting) I spoke out loud on paper my inner feelings.  Although my family and friends are also working their way through it, sometimes they can’t carry you as well as themselves.  So this outlet for me has been cathartic.  Another benefit being that I have a record.  Some people do journal and I suppose this is what I do without realizing it’s value later to help pinpoint events to refer back to.  So it has been useful. I also have kept just about every email/text thread spanning the time we have been in this situation.  So keeping those is wise in case they are needed at some point to refer back to.  

Who can you trust

 Cover up?  Who do you trust?

My personal thoughts are as follows.  They are my thoughts which span 25 years of questioning how my 16 year old son could vanish off the face of the earth.

When Damien went missing we reported his disappearance to the police, because that’s what you do, right? We felt very hopeful that we would get support and a result once they were on the job.  But it does not work like that.

First, we as a family were scrutinized, but we didn’t realize at the time.  We did wonder why they were spending a lot of time interviewing us and our kids and why they were not out searching.  But, being ignorant of any police procedure we thought this was leading somewhere and that surely, while we were being scrutinized, surely they were also out searching?  Erm, no!  So we lost valuable time.  It was at the suggestion of a dear friend that we should forget the bastards (her words) and get out and look ourselves.

That was the best advice I got and I am glad I followed it because, if I hadn’t, we would never have uncovered Damien’s movements that night.  Nothing would have been done by the police.  We knocked on doors and we found people who remembered seeing him and we discovered the video in a chip shop showing him talking to a group of army guys who were visiting the Island.  We made a fuss, asked questions and we were treated like a nuisance by police who obviously did not like the questions we asked.  They did not want to look for him and said he had gone off.  One even told me he was old enough to do what he wanted.  Damien was 16.  The police said they thought he was 19.  Big mistake on their part.

This set the rot into the case, day one.  Blaming Damien for being a young boy, because boys do this.  Accusing him of being a runaway and a timewaster and not a priority.

Mistakes just kept coming like the loss of evidence.  The CCTV of the High Street showing Damien walking along mysteriously disappeared.  They blew that off like it did not matter at all.  Justified it by saying there was nothing of importance on that CCTV.  Not true - my sons last movements were on that CCTV.

Could there be something that would have implicated either the police themselves or someone closely related to the police?  As anyone on the Isle of Wight knows, everyone is connected.  So what was there to hide.  The more I find out about connections between parties of interest, the more I am suspicious and start to believe the locals who say there was a cover up.

The army men on the chip shop video were not identified for 14 years, despite promises that they would be looked for, nothing was done for 14 years. 

  • No search was done of any scale until 14 years later.

  • No arrests were made until 14 years later.

  • All too late!  

We have been given a location where Damien may be buried, but the police refuse to look – why?  Cost, manpower and if Damien was found it would not be looking good for them.
I believe that when Damien is found his remains will tell all and that day is coming.  


Relentless Pace

The search for a loved one is relentless and there is no official handbook that explains the process when someone goes missing.  We need direction.  Do not be scared to offer us help and suggestions that are constructive and clear.  Show us the way forward, we are frozen in time. 

There have been few articles written about what a family does, or what an organization does,  but fail to address the important relationship between families and police.  Terminology usage is sometimes very formal and a bit ambiguous.  The pace of progress can be frustrating.  These are little things families need to be aware of so they don’t feel it’s just them.  It’s common.
What are the policies and procedures or lack thereof?   What should we expect in reality - not what is written in their own handbook?
To be ready to take up the search yourself when they are too busy with solvable crimes.

Missing Persons enquiries often fall beside the wayside. Cases may not always be risk assessed correctly.  Valuable details and time lost can never be recovered.   Police have dozens of runaways or county lines and dementia cases and it is easy to make simple assumptions about all cases.  Police are over burdened and understaffed.  Dedicated missing persons teams are needed in every force.  

It is imperative a family is listened to.  It takes tenacity and a willingness to challenge authority of the police and it is exhausting.  It often leads to a breakdown of communication to a level that is just unacceptable, but these cases are not a priority.

Long term missing are a category that seems to be immersed into statistics with cases which are more clear in the intentions of the missing person either repeat runaways and missing from care.  These are a huge issue but very much in another category. Yet the unsolvable long term missing cases which are out of character are the forgotten cases. No real statistics. No easy answers. No back story and no trail to follow.  Shelved too soon. 

I have learned to take each day at a time.  It is okay when mentally and physically exhausted, you  must let go, step back and allow your brain to decompress.

I am pleased to be on another think tank to support Charlie Hedges in a proposed handbook that will be helpful to families entering into this experience.  

Thursday, December 2, 2021

Waiting for the Light

Christmas is looming
I wrestle in my soul
Comparing a life which was whole
To this fractured remnant of  hope
If sweet Damien was here
What would he say or want?
He would say life took a turn
It wasn't in the plan
He would tell us he loves us
To live for the moment
Not how it once was
Nothing is certain
Make the best of sad times
Have faith
One day it will come right
Maybe not as we hoped or expected
Our paths to take
Nothing is guaranteed
We are visitors to this life
We think we have control
But, in truth
There is only fate
Accept for now what you cannot alter
Be still, be calm
Waiting for the light
by Valerie Nettles

Saturday, November 20, 2021

Shadows in time

Furrowed brow
Whispers in the wind
Chasing autumn leaves 
Floating in the air
Fingertips reaching to touch
Ethereal, drifting, fleeting 
Wisps of lingering memories

Echos of silence 
Embracing spaces
Where once you breathed
Memories slipping away
Nowhere to be found
by Valerie Nettles

Sunday, September 26, 2021


 Elusively, floating into my dreams you come. You are are helping others to safety.  You are pointed out to me as my son.  I found you!  In hushed tones people speak of your gentle courage. It’s you I see and I am elated and proud.  Something happens, there is danger, and I catch my breath in disbelief. 

 It’s a physical pain as I realize it is a dream.

You were there, fleetingly, now gone, fate unknown.  The dream dissipates with the waking of a new day. I have an acute sense of loss once again.  For a brief moment I felt the joy of finding you again.  Maybe one day. Bittersweet.

Wednesday, June 23, 2021

Urban Legend/Speculation


When Damien went missing we soon became very frustrated at the lack of action taken by the police.  In hindsight I feel that the day I reported him missing was the day they made up their minds how this case would go.  Dismissed.  I was informed all teenage boys “go off for a funny five minutes.”  “He will be home by tea-time”. “Gone off to lick his wounds.”  But none of this applied to Damien and we knew as a family he wouldn’t go off and not at least tell someone.  He couldn’t resist telling people where he was and what he was doing.

The whole thing was out of character.  But we were not heard and the running away idea was perpetuated as police told locals he had “run away “swam across The Solent” which is the stretch of water between the Isle of Wight and England southern coastline. Ludicrous at best.  No he wouldn’t have done this.  Police tried to put words in the mouths of his teen friends that he was depressed and a risk taker. No he wasn’t.  One officer declared he drowned and floated off to the Hook of Holland.  On what information did they base this?  Rumor mongering.  Setting in the rot that would eventually render this case virtually unsolvable.  

The rumor and speculation began in earnest on the Isle of Wight until the police were unable to sift facts from fiction.  Damien became a Urban Legend.

Although I welcomed people to contact police or myself with any information it was hard.  People were afraid of repercussions on a small island or didn’t trust police and wouldn’t go on record which rendered that information useless.  

All of this was bad enough but unfortunately part of the territory with a case like this.  One person suggested something and another repeated it slightly differently and before we knew it a whole story re-circulated back as another possible line of enquiry.  The police ignored most of it as regurgitated gossip.  Some of it they couldn’t ignore and had to act on it. 

Then there is the added distress of finding a body/human remains. I cannot even describe the emotions this elicits in the family.  Initially, police informed us of such finds and let us know the results.  But after a few years they failed to let us know.  We hear about it these days on Facebook as good and supportive followers of Damien’s case let us know when they hear of remains found.  I have to chase the police for some reassurance it’s not Damien.  It is hard to hear the comments, theories and innuendo regarding my own sons possible demise.

Families do read reports and articles about their missing loved ones and hearing those comments is very disheartening.  But it goes with the territory. My son is urban legend and his disappearance taken on a life of its own.  We can’t control the internet.  If we approve an article that’s fine but sometimes un-corroborated theories and mistakes are made, which once on the internet, are difficult to repair.  They are woven into the narrative.  It’s almost impossible to unpick the damage. 


Author: The Boy Who Disappeared ISBN: 1789460719

Publisher John Blake Books

Goodreads/Amazon/Audible & bookshops 

Sunday, June 6, 2021

It’s 4am again.

The stars shine bright in the early morning light.  As ever, my mind wanders to you Damien as I ponder your fate.  There is no way to know how you left us, yet.  Memories flood back in monotone like an old celluloid cine film.  Your life, fast forwarding through my mind with snippets of happy times, birthdays, Christmas, and laughter.  The film fizzles, melts, all we hear is the whirring of an empty reel, a life unfinished, there is nothing but silence now as the the switch is flipped. We are left without an ending except visions that haunt our quiet moments. We have been on a rollercoaster ride for so many years. I know that somewhere under those stars you wait for us.  You know we are always looking for you and one day I am sure we will find you.  We have to. 

But time is running out.


Author: The Boy Who Disappeared ISBN: 1789460719

Publisher John Blake Books

Goodreads/Amazon/Audible & bookshops 

Monday, March 1, 2021

The Art of Patience

Living with a missing family member is incredibly difficult.  I say “living with” because we live in a twilight zone.  Not knowing if that person is dead or alive.  We cannot grieve.  We know nothing. We do not have a reason why the loved one is missing.  There is nothing tangible to define their intent to go missing.  These are the lost people who vanish out of character.  No previous episodes of going missing; not disenfranchised, marginalized, or criminalized so where do they fit into the perception of a missing person?  The family left behind learns to wear a mask of patience which comes over time.  We look like we have learned to cope on the outside.  But the fracture within a family is rarely seen or understood.  The loss of a person affects dozens of people in a community.  Like pebble thrown into a pool, the ripples get wider and wider encircling friends and family.   

Little may be done because the police make assumptions they left home of their own choice because that is easy to pigeonhole these cases.  Explaining away the missing person as just another runaway and hopefully nobody will question it.  It is perpetuated as ‘their right to disappear.’ Most missing people do return after a few days and there is data to back this up.  The rest are lost and its down to chance they may be recovered within months, years, or decades.  Many have met with a suspicious death, too late to follow any trail.  Young men especially found deceased in water after a night out.  Too often people vanish and are never seen again.  They never fit the stereotypes and should have been better risk assessed immediately.  

This is a human rights and social issue.  As those left behind attempt to come to terms with this ambiguous loss, anxiety, and depression, even suicide add pressure to already overburdened healthcare workers.   


Author: The Boy Who Disappeared ISBN: 1789460719

Publisher John Blake Books

Goodreads/Amazon/Audible & bookshops 

Sunday, January 31, 2021

No Justice for Damien

There has been no justice for Damien.  He went out one night, waved bye mum, see you later.  I never saw him again. It’s all been said – rumors and speculation.  Police failures. Too late - some arrests and a major search proved fruitless.  A documentary opened up more questions than answers.  Were there people involved or was it gossip based on known criminality by these individuals who allegedly bragged they knew something? The police refused to comment or assist with the television film crew.  Was it because they knew what a poor job they did overall?

A few officers admitted to me it was not handled well.  Some apologized for it.  Some were belligerent.  Its now as a cold case.  Minimal communications from police who I am sure want it all to go away.

I wrote my book to put it into our own words what we suffered through.  We own this pain.   

We are not a unique family as there are so very many like us suffering the loss of a loved one who has gone missing, without an active engaged police force to stay focused on the case.  Too many other crimes that claim their time.  The missing issue, it may be assumed, are people walking away from their lives or who are in dire circumstances so leave home, which happens too frequently.  But  many are out for the evening, with friends, part company and vanish.  Those are the hardest to quantify.  Police make assumptions and valuable time is lost.  Many are found to have drowned due to proximity to canals or rivers or the sea.  Others turn out to be murdered or suspected murder.  Many cases are left  languishing on cold case shelves as unfinished business.   Families left behind to cope are living a life sentence of ambiguous loss.


Author: The Boy Who Disappeared ISBN: 1789460719

Publisher John Blake Books

Goodreads/Amazon/Audible & bookshops