Police searching for teenage sailor who disappeared 30 years ago find ‘bone material’ in cemetery

Chiara Giordano
Police searching for Royal Navy radio operator Simon Parkes, 18, who disappeared in Gibraltar on 12 December 1986, have found "bone material" in a cemetery: Hampshire Constabulary
Police searching for Royal Navy radio operator Simon Parkes, 18, who disappeared in Gibraltar on 12 December 1986, have found "bone material" in a cemetery: Hampshire Constabulary

Police searching for a teenage sailor who went missing 30 years ago have discovered “bone material” at a cemetery.

Simon Parkes, from Bristol, was last seen on 12 December 1986 when HMS Illustrious, the Royal Navy ship he was serving on, docked in Gibraltar.

The 18-year-old radio operator took shore leave during the ship’s last stop ahead of returning to Portsmouth – but he never made it back on board.

The ship returned to Portsmouth days later and no one knew what had happened to him despite a huge manhunt.

His disappearance has previously been part of investigations by Hampshire Police into serial killer Allan Grimson, a former petty officer, who is serving life for the murder of two young men and who was serving on board the aircraft carrier at the same time as the teenager.

Detectives from Hampshire travelled to Gibraltar this week to carry out searches at Trafalgar Cemetery following “new information” from a former crewmate of Mr Parkes.

They uncovered “bone material” during the searches, which will be analysed by forensic experts to determine whether it is human.

A force spokesperson said the activity in Gibraltar has “sparked several new calls” to the major crime investigation team, which have offered new lines of inquiry in both the UK and Gibraltar.

Detective Inspector Roger Wood, who is heading up the team, said: “We knew that there was a chance we wouldn’t find Simon, but we owed it to his family and his crewmates to try.

“While the searches were not successful in the way we had hoped, we have found some bone material which may or may not be human.

“Further tests are needed to determine what they are and while this is a positive discovery, we are cautious not to put too much significance on it at this time.”

DI Wood said the new “promising” new leads mean the investigation is “far from over” and detectives will be following them up in both countries.

Mr Parkes’ parents, Margaret and David, said in a statement: “We would like to thank everyone involved for their support and the opportunity to again search for Simon.

“It is a very difficult time but we are optimistic that the search is not over and we will never give up hope of finding him.”

Anyone with information about the disappearance of Simon Parkes can call police on 101, quoting Operation Thornhill, or Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800 555 111.

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