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Town Range car park new focus in search for Simon Parkes

Police searched Town Range in continued investigation into missing sailor Simon Parkes. Photo by Gabriella Peralta.

Over 30 years after the disappearance of young sailor Simon Parkes, the search has reopened in Gibraltar, with officers from Hampshire and Isle of Wight Constabulary excavating a car park in Town Range.

Simon vanished without trace in 1986, aged 18, after a night out in Gibraltar where his ship, the Royal Navy aircraft carrier HMS Illustrious, was docked.

Acting on new information provided to police by GBC journalist Ros Astengo, Hampshire Constabulary said they have followed a potential further line of enquiry.

Nine officers from Hampshire and Isle of Wight Constabulary, including detectives and specially trained search officers, are carrying out the work in Gibraltar this week in a bid to investigate what happened to Simon and locate his remains.

“The operational activity is part of our work to assess a new line of enquiry that has been presented to us,” a statement from Hampshire Constabulary said.

“This investigation continues to be a collaborative operation between Hampshire and Isle of Wight Constabulary and Royal Gibraltar Police with support from the Royal Navy.”

On Town Range and according to GBC, officers are working beneath tarpaulin tents investigating old cisterns that existed at the site unseen beneath the parking.

This is not the first time that areas of Gibraltar have been searched for evidence that might provide information about Simon’s disappearance.

Previous searches of the Upper Rock, South Barracks and tunnels, and Trafalgar Cemetery in the 1980s and early 2000s, and more recently in 2019, were fruitless, with the 2019 search of Trafalgar Cemetery returning no further evidence into this cold case.

“Since then investigations into his disappearance have so far failed to find answers for his devastated parents,” Hampshire Constabulary said.

But police remain hopeful of a breakthrough in the case.

The case, called Operation Thornhill, aims to find further information which could finally resolve this mysterious disappearance.

Simon served in the Royal Navy as a radio operator and docked in Gibraltar on board HMS Illustrious.
He was last seen leaving the Horseshoe Bar in Main Street on December 12, 1986.

But Simon never made it back onboard HMS Illustrious and the ship returned home to Portsmouth for Christmas without him.

When he was initially reported missing, it was suspected he had gone AWOL and perhaps had travelled to Spain.
But when his passport, possessions and Christmas presents were found on the ship this was deemed unlikely.

Simon had been on a nine-month world tour and was looking forward to coming home to his parents for Christmas.

Convicted murderer Allan Grimson, a former Royal Navy petty officer who was also aboard HMS Illustrious in Gibraltar, was one of the last people seen with Simon before he disappeared.

But Grimson, who is currently serving a 22-year jail term for the murders of naval rating Nicholas Wright, 18, from Leicestershire, and barman Sion Jenkins from Newbury, Berkshire, has always denied killing Simon.

Contemporary reports in the Chronicle following the disappearance described Simon as being of slight build, 5’8 tall with a West Country accent.

He was last seen wearing faded blue jeans, a pale grey T-shirt, and a long sleeved blue and grey crew neck jumper with a diamond pattern.

His distinguishing feature was a tattoo on his right arm of a black horse’s head with the name Simon through it.

Anyone with information about the disappearance of Simon can call the Hampshire and Isle of Wight Constabulary on 101, quoting Operation Thornhill, or Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800 555 111.

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