THE heartbreaking true story of every mother's worst nightmare has been published in a new book by Valerie Nettles, nearly 23 years after the mysterious and unsolved disappearance of her son Damien.

The Boy Who Disappeared tells of the trauma Valerie and her family have lived through every day since Damien disappeared in Cowes in November 1996, at the age of 16.

Last summer, Damien's disappearance was logged as a cold case, and despite theories, arrests and searches, no trace of the teenager has ever been found.

Valerie, 67, said she feared the story had slipped into urban myth, but said she would never give up trying to find out the truth about what happened.

She said she had been writing the book since the early days.

"It goes back to the very beginning of when Damien went missing. My coping skill was to write everything down to get it out of my head.

"I had lot of pieces of paper with everything written down on, so the book was just a case of compiling it.

"Writing it has not given me any answers, but writing things down over the years has helped.

"I'm not a writer, it is just something I had the urge to do, to tell our true story, what happened to us, blow by blow.

"The experience of losing a son, how he waved goodbye and never came back.

"The dilemma of what to do next, how to get help, the desperation that started and never really goes away, and learning to live with it.

"We are not giving up on Damien at all until there is some sort of finality, even if it is a bag of remains to identify."

The book goes through the family's experience of the investigation, what they perceive as blunders made by the police, arrests made, and searches undertaken.

All essentially proved fruitless, with Damien still missing, no body found and no-one held accountable.

The family turned to a private investigator who is certain he knows what happened, and theories have circulated on the IW for years. Valerie said: "It is very difficult as I have heard so much rumour and speculation.

"Just recently, someone told me in great detail that Damien was punched, fell to the ground and died, and was disposed of by being buried in marshland.

"They were very convinced that actually happened, but no-one has actual concrete facts behind the speculation.

"I fear it has gone into urban legend and with Chinese whispers, enough people telling this story, I'm left wondering if there is any truth to it, or if it is just gossip.

"All the rumours come back to the same group and I wonder if these people have family and friends who know something but are too fearful to come forward.

"There is an anonymous Crimestoppers number which is an open door for anyone who knows anything — just phone 0800 555 111.

"For us, things have not got better over the years. I have just learnt to live with it and the book shows whatever situation you are going through, you can persevere and survive."

Valerie believes the investigation would have been more thorough, with more publicity, if it had been a girl that had gone missing.

She said: "Young men go missing all the time. They end up in the river or the sea, or suicide — they are vulnerable.

"I urge young people to stay together on nights out. Look out for each other."

Valerie, husband Ed and their other children, James, Sarah and Melissa, moved to Texas 18 years ago.

It was a wrench for Valerie to leave the Island and she still misses it dreadfully, but her husband found work in the US and the children are all now settled there with children of their own.

Valerie has six grandchildren but a gaping void, wondering what Damien's children would have been like. She said: "I am sure he would have had children and we are deprived of that."

The book can be downloaded to Kindle and is available to buy in paperback format from Amazon, Asda, WHSmith and Waterstones, among other outlets.

Valerie has also begun a petition for a Missing Person Support Bill or Damien’s Law asking for improvements in how missing cases are handled.

To sign it, go to

Don't forget to like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.