A dedicated team of criminology students at the University of South Wales (USW) is reviewing investigations into people who have been missing for many years.
Dr Cheryl Allsop, whose research focuses on cold case investigations and missing people, set up the cold case unit at USW to help the families of missing people whilst providing students with an opportunity to put the theory that they are taught in class into practice and learn additional investigative skills.
Working alongside Locate International – a community interest company set up to help the families of missing people – as well as experts in police investigations and volunteers from the University of Central Lancaster, students work on behalf of the families, looking for opportunities to progress the investigation.
One of the cases that the students are reviewing is the disappearance of Damien Nettles, who was last seen in Cowes on the Isle of Wight in November 1996 when he was 16 years old.
Damien’s mother Valerie said: “My son vanished from the face of the earth on 2 November 1996 and was 40 on 21 June. Families of missing people should know that everything possible is being done to find their loved one. Many families do not have this basic reassurance. I believe that Locate and the teams at Lancashire and South Wales have found a way to help our family. I hope it will grow to help many more families. I am grateful to those giving their time to help and hope that more people will join the teams this year.”
Leah Reed who has just completed her BSc Criminology and Criminal Justice degree at USW and will be starting her MSc in Global Governance in September is the Senior Investigating Officer (SIO) on the case. She said: “The Cold Case Unit has allowed me to develop my skills outside of my degree, gain first-hand experience of working on an investigation and see how a fresh pair of eyes and relevant experts can progress investigations such as this one.
“I am incredibly proud to be a part of such a dedicated team and am grateful to be supported by Cheryl, Dave, Kevin and the rest of the team at Locate as well as the Nettles family. I am hopeful we can make a positive impact on this case and eventually grow as a team to help more families in the future."
Rachel Drennan, a BSc (Hons) Criminology and Criminal Justice student at USW and a Special Constable with South Wales Police in Pontypridd, is the Deputy SIO working on the case. She said: “Being able to help families of long-term missing people by applying our analytical skills and knowledge to the cases has been a privilege. With the support of our mentors we get the chance to gain experience for the future and hopefully provide some answers for families such as Damien’s. As this is the career path I’m interested in, I am grateful to be part of such an enthusiastic team and look forward to developing our skills further.”
Dr Allsop said: “We want to develop successful students, who can demonstrate leadership in their profession and promote active citizenship. In working on these cold cases, our students are providing a service to the families of the missing, looking for opportunities to progress the cases that might not otherwise get the focused attention that they need. I am extremely proud of the professionalism and commitment our students devote to these unsolved cases and the work they are doing to develop the programme.”
Ian McKim, Head of Criminology at USW said: “Seeing the determination of the team’s investigation and the work being undertaken, is so rewarding. I have been particularly struck by the meticulous research they have delivered during the past few months – it has been outstanding.”