Thursday, 17 May 2012

The Ripple Effect

It started as a small idea to help our family to raise awareness and a reward for information about what happened to our son.  It soon became a massive fundraiser and I could never have imagined in my wildest dreams that there would be such an outpouring of support for our family in our search for Damien.

When a person goes missing the focus is on the family.  But friends suffer too, as well as anyone in the community who quietly identifies with the fear and the emotional distress suffered by families.  Our son Damien has been missing for almost 16 years.  We moved away almost 11 years ago due to my husband’s employment, but we have never given up the search for Damien and still believe we can find him.  We have had to work hard to keep this case on the police radar and to make sure it is not forgotten.

We have always had a lot of support from friends over the years.  However, the community where we had lived and where our children went to school has recently rallied around us and shown such love and support, over and above anything we could have imagined.  When Gennive Woolston (she went to school with my eldest daughter) decided organise do a disco to raise funds, she quickly found that the community and local businesses were prepared to offer much more.  They helped arrange a venue at Cowes Yacht Haven and provided an open bar service, and also staffed the event for free. 

Local bands flocked to play, again offering their time and talent for free, and a band from London came especially to help support the efforts to raise a reward.  So many people stepped up to the plate.  Local TV and radio, sound technicians and lighting all came to bring this gig together in a very polished and professional way.  It became known as ‘Damien’s Gig’ and posters were placed far and wide.  Social networking spread the word to far-flung friends across the globe. It was even streamed live on the internet allowing my daughter to watch from her home in Seattle and see all her old friends at the gig, who had come to celebrate Damien and help us raise the funds we need. 

When I was at the gig I was amazed how many people came.  I knew some of them well, but there were others I had never met before, who follow us on Facebook and came to introduce themselves.  It was heartening and humbling to see so many caring people.  It didn’t just raise money – it raised awareness that our son went out one night and never came home, and that for years there have been suspicions that something more sinister happened.  Anyone who knows the case will be aware that it has become a suspected murder case over the past two years.  It is with this in mind that we decided to try to raise funds for a reward ourselves, as the police had refused.  It created an outpouring of anger and sympathy from everyone, and was the catalyst that brought this gig and a community of people together for a good cause together.

It is just so amazing that so many people care about our son, and the continued efforts of the community and organizations that care for the families left behind.  It helps us to cope and to make our lives just a little easier to bear.

Thank you to everyone who cares for lost and missing people – your support is the wind beneath our broken wings. 

By Valerie Nettles
Mother of missing Damien Nettles

Wednesday, 2 May 2012

Dawn and Roger Hopson: The Search for Piers

We stare at the map of Kent and East Sussex. Where shall we go this week? Where shall we distribute our “Missing” leaflets? Where could he possibly be? Piers is so vulnerable (a person with Asperger Syndrome is very naïve) and he must be with someone; he can’t look after himself. Who could he have met on that cold January afternoon in 2010? It must have been someone fairly local, we say to ourselves – who else would be in Hastings on a Monday afternoon in winter? What could they have said to him to persuade him go with them?

When Piers [pictured] first went missing, concerned friends and neighbours helped us to blitz Hastings and nearby towns daily with hastily printed leaflets and posters. As we continue our search, we have our own dedicated number for people to call, in addition to the police and the Missing People helplines. As the weeks and months have gone by our band of helpers has shrunk – not because they are any less concerned for us, but because we feel that we have called upon them enough. We know that we have only to ask, and help will be there. In the meantime it is just the two of us. For us it is a kind of therapy. We feel we are actually doing something to try to get Piers back.

We have a spreadsheet listing when and where we leafleted, with information on the towns or villages, the roads where we delivered leaflets door-to-door, the pubs, cafés, post offices and shops which promised to display a poster. As well as new areas, we are now also revisiting places we leafleted two years ago. “I thought he had been found” people say, or “Still missing? Oh, you poor things, I will pray for you”. We can cope with sympathy now - to start with “no hugs” and “anything but sympathy” we said to our friends.

Sometimes after one of our leafleting days the “Piers phone” as we call it, will ring. Someone thinks they have seen a man who may be Piers. We quickly take down the details – what was he doing, was he alone, how did he walk, and what was he wearing? Sometimes it is obvious to us that it was not Piers, but we investigate, just as if we believe it to have been him. We can’t afford not to. At other times, the person described sounds so like Piers, the room goes quiet, we look at each other – could this be it? In any case, as soon as we can we go to visit the area, clutching leaflets, posters and photographs of Piers.

If it is a café, pub or store we ask about CCTV. Our holy grail is CCTV that was switched on, facing the right way and working correctly. Our friendly contact in Hastings police will always arrange for us to view any images that might be Piers. It is always a traumatic event – we are ushered into a room by a police officer, a laptop will be on the desk. As we sit down we can’t take our eyes off the picture on the screen. We strain to get a clearer view – no, not Piers. But we still wait to see the moving images, just to make absolutely sure.  We thank the police officer for his help and kindness. We go out, get into our car and sit quietly for a few moments. We drive home.

It has been several weeks now, since the ”Piers phone” rang.  Having no new leads, we stare at the map. “Let’s try Robertsbridge” one of us says, “yes, that’s a good idea”.

Around 250,000 people go missing in the UK each year. The Missing Blog aims to give a voice to all those affected by this issue.

Written by families and friends of missing people, supporters working to raise awareness of the cause, and volunteers and staff at the charity Missing People, we hope that this blog will offer a window into the issue of missing.

The charity Missing People is a lifeline when someone disappears. To find out more about Missing People and ways that you can support the charity visit

Call or txt the charity Missing People for free on 116 000, 24/7 if you or anyone you know is affected by a disappearance.