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New lead in case of missing sailor Simon Parkes

Simon Parkes.

Further investigations are taking place in a previously unsearched area of the Rock in a new development in the case of missing Royal Navy sailor, Simon Parkes, who disappeared in Gibraltar in 1986.

As reported by GBC on Wednesday morning, the Royal Gibraltar Police carried out Ground Penetrating Radar scans over the weekend following new information uncovered by GBC reporter Ros Astengo during research for a book based on the investigation.

This search is expected to be followed by a full-scale forensic dig in the coming months.

Simon disappeared without trace 36 years ago after a night out in Gibraltar, where the ship he was serving on, HMS Illustrious, was docked during a nine-month global deployment.

The radio operator from Bristol, who was 18 at the time, was last seen leaving the Horseshoe Bar in Main Street on December 12, 1986.

This was the last stop for HMS Illustrious before heading back to Portsmouth, but Simon never made it home in time for Christmas.

Extensive searches were carried out for his whereabouts and several days later Simon was declared Absent Without Leave.

For the past 36 years, his parents Margaret and David Parkes have been searching for answers on his disappearance, hoping that one day he will be found.

Operation Thornhill recommenced in December 2019, based on new information received by officers of the Hampshire Constabulary who have worked together with the Royal Gibraltar Police throughout.

On that occasion, the search in Trafalgar Cemetery for evidence to help clarify Simon’s disappearance was fruitless.

It was not the first time a search was carried out in Gibraltar, with previous searches carried out in the Upper Rock, South Barracks and tunnels in the 1980s and 2000s.

When Simon was first reported missing it was suspected he had perhaps travelled to Spain, but when his passport, possessions and Christmas presents were found on board this was deemed unlikely.

His disappearance has continued to be a subject of interest for the Hampshire Constabulary and Royal Gibraltar Police for the past 36 years.

Ms Astengo, who is working closely with Simon’s parents and writing a book on the circumstances of the disappearance, uncovered new information which could be significant, and passed it on to police.

She said she embarked on the project in the hope it might offer the family some comfort in knowing Simon’s story would never be forgotten.

On Wednesday afternoon, Ms Astengo told GBC’s Gibraltar Today: “As a parent, I think, most of us could relate to what David and Margaret Parkes have gone through over the past 36 years.”

“They had a young teenage son who was excited about going home and they had letters from him and phone calls, and then suddenly he was gone.”

“He was gone, and that was 36 years ago here in Gibraltar.”

“How sad, terribly sad.”

“I don't know how they have battled through these years and there were many, many years where there was no news at all.”

“No phone calls, no leads, nothing.”

“They didn't really start getting some sort of family liaison support, really, until about 2000, when Simon's case was reopened, because, of course, he was designated as Absent Without Leave when he disappeared.”

Ms Astengo said it is “very likely” Simon is “still here on the Rock”, and Gibraltar “really needs to help” his parents get “some closure and peace”.

In addition to her work as a broadcast journalist, Ms Astengo has been speaking to friends and family, as well as police forces, to help piece this book together.

“I just felt it was really important to inject a little bit of force into this investigation, push it forward, because we know police forces are challenged in the UK, they're challenged here in Gibraltar,” she said.

“They don't have the resources, perhaps, so I felt it was important to drive it forward.”

Much of the investigation in the past has focused on the last people seen with Simon on the night he went missing.

They included Allan Grimson, a former Royal Navy petty officer who was also onboard HMS Illustrious in Gibraltar at the time.

Grimson was later jailed for 22 years for the murders of naval rating Nicholas Wright, 18, from Leicestershire, and barman Sion Jenkins from Newbury, Berkshire, but has always denied killing Simon.

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